Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Rare Birds

Miller, Jeff. Rare Birds
January 31, 2023 by Union Square Kids
Copy provided by the publisher

Graham and his mother have moved several times in an attempt to find the best treatment for his mother's heart ailment. His father died when he was young, and he has quite the strategy for dealing with hospital life, from finding the best nurses to locating the ice machine with the optimal ice. The most recent move is to Sugarland, Florida, where his mother grew up, and where the Florida Clinic offers new hope. The two are living with his mother's longtime friend, Dom, who has a son Graham's age. Nick is an unhappy teen, and angry not only about sharing his room, but about his mother's remarriage and new family, including one year old twins. At the hospital, Graham meets Lou, who spends a lot of time there waiting to hear news about her father. The two bond over a love of birds, and look into participating in a local contest to find a Snail Kite and get a picture of it. The prize is $5,000, and both kids have thoughts about how to use the money. Unfortunately, so does Nick, and he and two obnoxious friends get into the hunt, sabotaging Graham and Lou at every turn. Graham spends some of his time helping Dom out with his painting; Nick, who is color blind, doesn't like to help because he has messed up in the past and doesn't like to be reprimanded. The hunt becomes more difficult when Nick and his friends ruin Graham's brand new canoe, but after a particular brutal encounter in the swamp where the friends cause Graham and Lou to capsize and the two face spending the night outside, Nick sees the error of his ways, and helps them out. Graham's mother's condition worsens, and she gets moved up on the waiting list for a new heart, but the kids are not able to get the message. Lou gets news at the same time, and there is a grim waiting period to see how things will turn out for everyone. Not all of the situations resolve happily, but Graham and his mother find a way to go forward with the help of Dom and Graham. 
Strengths: While this has all the makings of a super sad story, it is saved from sogginess by Graham's positive approach to life. I especially liked how he dealt with Nick; he showed resilience in a lot of ways, although there were moments where he struggled as well. Lou is also a positive character, and the two have a summer friendship centered around finding the "rare bird" that gives this book a page turning quality. There is just enough about Graham's mother's condition and deterioration to add tension to the search for the bird, and enough connection to her past to make it interesting. I really liked Dom, having Graham spend time painting, and all of the yummy sounding burgers, milk shakes, and onion rings at the local burger joint made me want to go to our local Swenson's for dinner! There were some twists that I don't want to ruin, and I think this will be a big hit with students and teachers alike. 
Weaknesses: The plot arc with Nick could have been fine tuned so that he was a bit more sympathetic. His friends are VERY evil, and it was hard to blame all of Nick's bad behavior on his mother's new family. Will young readers notice? I don't think they will. I just like characters to be a bit more gray. 
What I really think: I wasn't sure I would like this one, but ended up enjoying it. This had a touch of The Bridge to Terebithia (so you've been warned!) mixed with the work of Carl Hiaassen. It also reminded me a bit of St. Antoine's Three Bird Summer (2014) Add it to a growing number of books about birding that includes King's The Drake Equation (2016), Perez's Strange Birds (2019), Lorentz's Of a Feather (2019), Stark-McGinnis' Ordinary Birds (2019) McCullough's Across the Pond (2021),  and Lord's Home Away From Home (2023). 

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

The Curious Vanishing of Beatrice Willoughby

Schmidt, G.Z. The Curious Vanishing of Beatrice Willoughby
September 5, 2023 by Holiday House
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

It has been thirteen years since six-year-old Beatrice Willoughny vanished from a house party at the home of Mort and Maribelle Amadeus. Her father was the mayor of the town, and Mort was quickly arrested and jailed, but Beatrice was never found. As fall rolls around again, the townspeople have been getting invitations to another house party, hosted by Maribelle and Edie. These invitations create quite a stir. Rumors fly, and odd behavior ramps up. Mrs. Raven overhears the Amadeus' caretaker Wormwood talking to Dr. Foozle the pharmacist about poison. There has been a steady stream of young children disappearing from the local inn. Judge Ophelius gets a threatening invitation. Count Baines, who can foretell bad luck, has a bad feeling about the houseparty. Ms. H, the local school teacher, and her husband don't really want to attend, but feel they might as well. School aged Dewey and his father Chaucer are headed to the party when they meet Mrs. Raven, who tells them it would be treacherous for a young person to attend. Chaucer, who travels about collecting stories, wasn't invited, but Mrs. Raven convinces Wormwood to let him in, along with Duchess von Pelt. When the party finally starts, the announcement is made that one of the guests in attendance was responsible for the death of Beatrice Willoughly, and that the guests will serve as a jury and decide before midnight who the real culprit was, thereby exonerating Mort, who is still in jail. As the countdown toward midnight continues, secrets are probed, and all of the attendees contribute a little bit of information to help solve the mystery. In the end, the culprits are revealed, and efforts are made to bring Beatrice back to life. 
Strengths: This was written with a sense of urgency, and the gathering of the potential culprits gave this a classic feel, like Agatha Christie's mysteries. The characters are all well developed and easy to tell apart. Dewey (shown on the cover) is the youngest character, and a driving force of the investigation, despite most of the characters being adults.  
Weaknesses:While my students like murder mysteries, they like them to be more realistic. This is definitely fantasy, since it includes enchantments and a little bit of necromancy. I'm not enjoying this trend towards the dark and disturbing raising of the dead in middle grade literature. 
What I really think: This would be a good choice for readers who liked Lemony Snickets All the Wrong Questions series or Taylor's Malamander books. 

I'm in the minority here, but didn't care for this one. I've certainly bought a lot of books with a similar quirky, offbeat feel to them even though they are  not my personal favorite, but this style is one that my students have been avoiding for the last five years or so. This year, no one has even checked out any of the Lemony Snicket books. This was well written and engaging, but it's just not the sort of thing that I need to purchase for my library right now. If this type of mystery is something your students read, definitely take a look! 

Ms. Yingling

Monday, January 29, 2024

MMGM- Light and Air and The Wisest Learners

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Wendell, Mindy Nichols. Light and Air 
January 2, 2024 by Holiday House
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Hallelujah Grace Newton lives in New York State with her father, a high school teacher, and her mother, in 1935. Her mother is involved and supportive, but her father has become increasingly worried and distant since her mother has suffered four miscarriages. Her mother's health hasn't been good, and the reason is eventually uncovered: she has tuberculosis. Since this is highly contagious and difficult to cure, she is whisked off to the J.N. Adams tuberculosis sanitorium some twenty minutes away. Halle (HAL-lee) and her father are both tested, but although their skin test shows positive for tuberculosis, their lung x-rays are clear and they are allowed to return to school. Halle is given a hard time by some classmates, who call her a "filthy-lunger", but her best friend Thelma remains supportive. Even though Mrs. Gray, the kind wife of the local doctor, comes to stay with her and help out, Halle misses her mother and is very worried about her. She decides that she will run away to visit her, but during her journey, she becomes very ill. Once she is found, it's determined that she, too, needs to go to the sanitorium. It turns out that she has pneumonia rather than active tuberculosis, but she stays at the hospital. She makes friends with the other girls there, but is very concerned about her mother, whose condition does not seem to improve, due to complications her father does not fully explain. Halle decides that her mother really needs to drink honey water every day, the way she did at home, to get better, and sets out to get some from the sanitorium's gardener. With the help of the other children, including two boys from another ward, she also manages to sneak into her mother's ward at night to visit. Away from her father's dour moods, Halle is able to enjoy her life a little despite her mother's illness, but tragedy is never far from a facility for the chronically ill. What is Halle's mother's mysterious condition, and how will her family continue?
Strengths: There are many periods of history that my students know nothing about, and after the 2020 pandemic, I think that coverage of tuberculosis is a fantastic thing for them to read! As the cover indicates, this is a generally positive story, and it ends on an upbeat note. Halle is 11, but reads as if she is a bit older because of all of the work and responsiblity that children that age were given at the time. Even though Halle's family is in distress, it was good to see that the community stepped in to help, even if the food they brought wasn't as good as Halle's mother's! I loved Mrs. Gray (she reminded me of the minister's wife in Anne of Green Gables), and the characters at the sanitorium are interesting and well developed as well. This was a very pleasant book to read on a gray, fall afternoon. Who would have thought that a book about tuberculosis would have bene more enjoyable than most of the middle grade books I've been reading lately?
Weaknesses: I could have used more explanation for why the father is so distant and unpleasant to Halle. The miscarriages would not have been that upsetting at the time; my grandmother didn't have my father until she was 41 (in 1934), so I'm suspecting there were a number of babies who didn't make it, but it was never discussed. His attitude was probably more a product of the time. Since my students don't understand what parenting was like in the 1930s, more explanation would have been helpful. 
What I really think: Since there are few books about this historical topic (Wilson's Queenie, set in 1953, deals with a tubercular infection of the leg, and Hayle's Breathing Room (2012) is set in London, I'll definitely purchase this. It's more upbeat, and has a bit more action. I love that the hospital is a real place, although it's so sad that such a beautiful building is in such decay. 

Panlilio II, Dr. Wallace and Zinchenko, Dr. Artyom. 
Wisest Learners (Parent Edition): Unlock the Secrets to Your Child's Academic Success 
January 2, 2024 by Independently published
Copy provided by the Publisher

To me, the most enjoyable part of having children was teaching them things! My own offspring were rarely allowed screen time, were given lots of books and art supplies, and also helped me out with household chores. They all did well in school, got college scholarships, and are successful adults with good jobs and their own health insurance! My parents were also educators, so I just did the sorts of things I had been taught at home. Parents who don't have a background in education will find Wisest Learners an interesting and helpful book to apply to rearing academically minded children. 

I'm not sure how many secrets this unlocks, but the book does break down the approaches to life skills that parents should consider. Basically, children need to have intrinsic motivation to learn rather than all of the Jolly Ranchers, tickets, and participation awards that are rampant as "carrots" today. It helps for them to have a clear direction of where they are headed, and how acquired skills can be not only used in future emergencies, but how the act of learning those skills makes them more flexible and knowledgeable adults.

There are some very good details about both time management and space management that many of my students would benefit from. Having routines, enough rest, and time for reflection are critical. Because there were no smart phones when my children were in school, they weren't tired like many kids I see complaining today, and there was plenty of time for them to just sit and think thoughts instead of watching YouTube videos or playing games on their phones. Fiften years ago, students in study hall would do homework, read, and then draw or write notes, all of which are productive ways to spend time. I've often thought that my children should have had more dedicated space to do homework; we mainly did it at the kitchen table. It worked out well, but now I personally would like to have a work space with a comfortable chair and a window looking out onto a pleasant outdoor scene! 

I especially liked the information about encouraging students to ask for help and to learn to collaborate. Of course, since it's 2024, there is also a chapter about dealing with anxiety, which is probably less of a concern for children who have been solving problems and learning to amuse themselves for their whole lives. 

This does veer into the style of college textbooks; S.M.A.R.T. goals are mentioned, and there's even talk of metacognition. I've taken several college courses recently to renew my certification, and this seemed very similar to other ones I've seen, especially Hammond's Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain, which is geared towards educators. There doesn't seem to be a teacher edition of Wisest Learners, but this would be an excellent book for teachers to read, especially if they have children of their own. 

Sunday, January 28, 2024

Art Club

Doucet, Rashad. Art Club
February 6, 2024 by Little, Brown Ink
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Dale loves playing videos games and drawing, and thinks that school is boring. His father is deployed, and his mother is busy working as a nurse. His grandfather has moved in with the family after the death of the beloved grandmother, who was as interested in comics as Dale is. When Mr. Ruffin assigns a project on future careers, Dale doesn't know quite what to research. The message from both his family and his school has been very clear; art will not provide a job that pays well enough to have a stable life. Still, nothing else seems fun, so Dale decides to do his project on comic book creators. While researching different options, he decides that he really would like to have an art club at school. There was one years ago, but it was cut because of budgetary concerns. He and several friends, including basketball player and best friend Aren, art enthusiast Kya, and Mackenzie, who has to hide her involvement from her mother, who wants her to focus on math and science so she can be the first person in her family to go to college. The children approach one of the teachers, Miss Ja'nae, to be their faculty sponsor, since she was in an art club at the school years ago, but Mr. Ruffin shut it down. She is interested in the same video game that Dale enjoys, and eventually agrees to help. Mr. Ruffin has demanded that the club earn $500 to support itself, and lets them meet in a small, crowded room. Things go well, and the group is even approached by the local comic shop to help with their launch, but after Mr. Ruffin hears the kids arguing, he increases his demands to $1,000 for the club to earn to remain viable. Kya has an art show planned, and the kids work hard to earn money. Dale manages to get his grandfather on his side, but will the group be able to convince Mr. Ruffin that the art club is not a waste of their time?
Strengths: I'm a big fan of Children Doing Things, and it's good that Dale moves beyong the idea of playing video games all day to researching careers in art. He shows initiative in gathering enough people, persuading Miss Ja'nae to be their advisor, and in fundraising. He convinces his family that his pursuits have merit, and even stands up to Mr. Ruffin to make his voice heard. The art is colorful, and will appeal to students who like graphic novels and manga. 
Weaknesses: Major in Latin, they said. You can get your PhD and teach Classics in college, they said. I'm really glad that art worked out for Mr. Doucet,  but it doesn't work out for everyone. I wish someone had warned me that majoring in Latin was a bad idea. Pursuing something you love and not being able to find a stable, remunerative career in the field can make a person bitter. Really, really bitter. Mr. Ruffin isn't as evil as he's made out to be, looking at him from my perspective. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who like art and comics and have enjoyed Sells' Doodleville or Rodriguez and Bell's Doodles from the Boogie Down

Saturday, January 27, 2024

Caturday, Schmaturday-- Pongo wants DOG BOOKS

Smallman, Steve and Starling, Rob (illus.). Doggy Dance-Off 
September 12, 2023 by Tiger Tales
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

The Doggy Dance off is really hopping, with Patch (and his fleas), Suki, Dynamite Doug, and Duke Doggy Doo. They are boogieing, break dancing, and tearing up the dance floor. When one pup spills his orange juice, one exuberant dancer in a black suit with a purple sequined mask and a fedora doesn't stop, but continues to get down and get funky... until she slips on the juice. Who is this masked, mad dancer? There's a big twist that I don't want to spoil, but it will illicit a lot of laughs from young readers.

If the musical genre of my youth is showing up in picture books, you know I'm getting old, because this is clearly meant to appeal to grandparents who did a turn or two at a disco back in the day. The sparkle and energy of Saturday Night Fever is evident on every page, and the styles the dogs are wearing evoke various musical artists.

This is reminiscent of Boynton's fabulous Barnyard Dance, and the use of dactyllic lines definitely echoes the hand clapping and foot stomping vibe of that book. The refrain of "Down at the big Doggy Dance-Off" will be repeated again and again. There are a few times that the meter of the lines is off (and I may correct the text in my copy for ease of future readings), but I am very picky about poetry, and most of the lines flow off the tongue like a silk disco dress.

This would be a great title to have if you wanted to have a dog and dance themed story hour; just add a disco ball, some glitter shades, and Bender's Ballewiena and Litwin's Groovy Joe: Dance Party Countdown. Get ready to ease on down the road!

Bradshaw, John and Elsom, Clare (illus.) 
A First Guide to Dogs: Understanding Your Very Best Friend
June 13, 2023 by Penguin Workshop
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

From the point of view of Rusty, a terrier, biologist John Bradshaw takes us through a day in the life through a canine point of view. Along the way, we learn how dogs perceive the world through their various senses, and explores why they do the things they do. From super smelling abilities to how a dog feels when left home alone, this short book delivers helpful instruction in the form of a chapter novel.

This was very fun, and would make a great gift for elementary age children who desperately wanted (and had a chance of someday adopting!) a dog of their own. It follows a cartoon dog named Rusty around during a day and explains the sorts of activities that make him happy. There is a lot of information about how dogs process smells. I once heard someone say that sniffing the world while out on walks was a dog's equivalent of reading the newspaper, so I have always taken my dogs on lots of walks and let them smell as much along the way as they would like.

The illustrations are very cute, and this book is a great introduction to pets for readers who are a little too young for a book like Alexandra Horowitz's Our Dogs, Ourselves.

Melling, David. Ruffles and the New Green Thing
June 6, 2023 by Candlewick Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

After his adventures in Ruffles and the Red, Red Coat and Ruffles and the Teeny, Tiny Kittens, we know that while Ruffles enjoys many things, he is also not particularly good with change or with the unfamiliar. When a new green thing appears in his dog dish (looking suspiciously like a piece of broccoli), he is apprehensive and a bit irritated that his usual food is not there. He investigates, but cannot come to any conclusion. When his friend Ralph comes to play, he gives the thing in Ruffles' bowl a taste. Since Ruffles looks up to Ralph, who seems very accomplished and perhaps a bit older, Ruffles tries the new food as well. It's not as bad as he thinks, and perhaps even delicious, but this doesn't stop Ruffles from another round of suspicion when something orange appears in his bowl.

Ruffles is very much like a toddler in his enthusiam for and approach to life, and the text is perfect for reading with this age group. We all sometimes need a message about trying and accepting new things! It's delightfully repetitive, and begs to be read while lying on one's stomach on a carpeted floor, so that when the pages with Ruffles enjoying a variety activities comes up, the readers can replicate his actions! (He... "creeps... and stares... and listens... and circles...") Young readers sometimes have limited patience with long text, so having one sentence on most pages, then the occasional views of Ruffles' various activities is perfect. This book would be very easy to memorize, which will be helpful.

The depiction of Ruffles and Ralph is simple but delightful, and the expressions on their faces particularly charming. The primary colors and clear lines don't detract from the text, so it's easy to point to words in order to sound them out. The white space (or in some cases, yellow or pink) also makes this book easy on the eye and fun to navigate. While I'm a fan of picture books with a lot of background details, there is also something to be said for books with a less visually cluttered approach.

Growing up, I was a huge fan of Graham's Harry the Dirty Dog, and I am glad to see that Ruffles is getting more and more books in his series, including the October 2023 Ruffles and the Cozy, Cozy Bed. Ruffles is in good company with dogs like Papp's Madeline Finn and the Library Dog, Wells' McDuff, Capucilli's Biscuit and Bo from Higgins' Good Dog series for slightly older readers.

Friday, January 26, 2024

Guy Friday- The World-Famous Nine

Guterson, Ben. The World-Famous Nine
January 30, 2024 by Christy Ottaviano Books
E ARC provided through Netgalley, with help from the author

In 2012, young Zander Olinga gets to spend five weeks with his grandmother at her fabulous department store The Number Nine Plaza. Started in the 1800s, the store has been in the family for a long time, and run by only four women in the family. It's located in Novatrosk, and is not only architecturally significant, but also has an amazingly wide range of products as well as a fascinating history. Zander's mother was never interested in the store, and is happy to be a college professor; she and Zander's father are spending time on a research trip while he is with his grandmother. There are a lot of employees who have been at the store for a long time, and we also meet Natasha Novikov, whose step father, Mr. Lukovsky, does plumbing in the building. She swings high above the heads of the diners in several of the store restaurants, which amazes Zander, who has a decided fear of heights. One of the symbols of the store is the mandala; there are several around the premises, although Zander finds out that it is approaching the 90th anniversary of when the most important one went missing. There is some suspicion that it was stolen by Vladimir, who was under the dark force of Darkbloom. There are some odd clues scattered throughout the store, and when bad things start happening, Natasha and Zander set out to find the plaque and uncover the mystery. This, of course, means that Zander has to travel all over the store and get to know its fascinating departments, such as the penguin exhibit, the Sew What You Want department, the Tube Room (for the pneumatic communication tubes!) and the employee lounge, where a quiet man will wake up employees if they are taking a break. As near tragedies like a Ferris wheel malfunction and electrical disturbances continue, and clues are left with "the crimson stitch", Zander singles out Fenton Herpolsheimer, who retired years ago but who has been seen in the building. There is also the suspicious Ludmilla and Sergei, who met at the Dnipropetrovshchyna Art Institute. Will Zander and Natasha be able to make sense of the family history they've uncovered in order to find the lost plaque and stop the attacks on their beloved department store? 
Strengths: I was just thinking about malls and department stores before I read this; my mother adored the mall, and actually worked in a department store where the payments were sent to the office in pneumatic tubes. I also have a friend whose parents ran a department store in a small town, and I spent a year working at the downtown Cincinnati Lazarus, so this made me feel nostalgic. I can't think of any other middle grade books that are set in department stores, but they are rather magical places. The Nine is even more so, with it's fascinating departments for art and odd items, and the building deserves to have a map on the end papers. I loved the history, especially the addition of nine floors, and didn't get to see nearly enough of the penthouse apartment where Zander's grandmother lived! A department store is the perfect place for tweens to have free rein. They can talk to all of the people working, snoop into nooks and crannies, and get delicious food at the restaurants. Of course, this has a tiny bit of darkness, with the accidents and backhistory of Darkbloom, but that just adds to the excitement. I'm not sure if young readers will have seen the television shows Selfridges or The Paradise, but The World-Famous Nine manages to deliver the magic of those earlier department stores while updating the time period a bit. 
Weaknesses: I was unsure of where Novatrosk was located. It seems to be not far from Pittsburgh, but there were so many Russian sounding names that I was a bit confused. There wasn't a language barrier, and Natasha is a fan of sports teams in the US, so I feel like I was missing something. 
What I really think: Fans of quirky, clue oriented mysteries like Mr. Lemoncello's Library and Carmen's Floors will enjoy this virtual shopping trip, and may need to hunt down some mint chocolate candy!  
 Ms. Yingling

Thursday, January 25, 2024

The Thirteenth Circle

Connelly, MarcyKate and Holmes, Kathryn. The Thirteenth Circle
January 30, 2024 by Feiwel and Friends
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

After being out sick, Dani is not happy to find that she is partnered with Cat for a science fair project. Even worse is the fact that Cat has already turned in the application for the McMurray competition, and wants to study the local phenomenon of the Weston Farm Circles that appear every 13 years. Cat is that "weird" girl who wears science t shirts and believes in aliens, and Dani is beside herself that her scholarship to ScienceU summer camp could depend on Cat's help. Dani decides that she will work with Cat, but take a different approach to the project, concentrating more on proving that the circles are a hoax, rather than finding proof of alien presence. Cat has a lot of great scientific equipment because her father works for NASA, but ever since her parents divorced and he moved to Houston, he supplies her with equipment for her lab out of guilt. The girls manage to work together and get along for the most part. They gather a lot of information about crop circles, look into the history of the phenomenon, and even spend nights at the farm testing soil and wheat. They think that they have seen something forming a circle, and test the wheat samples, even microwaving some and hypothesizing that the circles are perhaps formed by some sort of microwaves. Things get even stranger when agents (whom they dub "Men in Black") show up at the farm and limit access, and even use an electromagnetic pulse to scramble all of the equipment in the area. Cat's mother is NOT pleased that Cat's phone and several pieces of equipment have been ruined, no matter whose fault it is. The girls don't always get along, and as their research hits snags, there are some tense moments. When their research is stolen from Cat's room, things look even more serious. When the competition is no longer their biggest concern, and the girls are actually put into danger, will they be able to see their project through to the end? (Don't want to give away all the twists and turns!)
Strengths: I liked that there was a lot of great scientific inquiry represented, and Cat even manages to accurately map out the next location of the crop circles, which was very cool. While both girls really enjoy science, there is some realistic push back by some of Dani's friends about her new pursuit. I also liked that Dani's parents are more into art (they run a summer camp called Artistikids) and would prefer that she take dance classes. Dani envies Cat her more scientific parents, who give her freedom and resources to put together a helpful lab in the attic. The different parenting styles were interesting to see. A good balance of scientific descriptions and middle school friend drama makes this an engaging and compelling read. 
Weaknesses: This could have been a little shorter; there's a lot of information to process with the mystery. It's well developed, but eliminating some of the nonessential elements (although I loved Robbie and his tinfoil hats) would have made this easier for readers who aren't quite as strong to manage. Also, I knew right away who the villain was. 
What I really think: I liked this better than Keller's Jennifer Chan is Not Alone, which had some similar elements. This would be a great book for science teachers to use in the classroom!Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

The Unbeatable Lily Hong

Ma, Diane. The Unbeatable Lily Hong
January 2, 2024 by Clarion Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Lily's parents run a Chinese school which meets in the local community center, so Lily and her brother attend classes there. The center is having a hard time financially, especially since the building is older and in need of repairs. Lily knows that her parents are trying to help with a fundraiser, but an enormous amount of money is needed for the residents to buy the building. In addition to this worry, Lily is at odds with a boy at school, Max. The two have a long standing rivalry, at least from Lily's point of view. She is still angry because he read more books than she did, especially since they were short books and she was finishing the last in a long fantasy series. As part of the fund raiser, one of Lily's mother's friends, Vivienne, comes to teach the children in the school a Chinese dragon dance. Vivienne, who is somewhat famous and lives in the city, is the one who has been sending Lily and her brother mysterious gifts, and there seems to be some unexplained tension between the women. Max comes to visit the Chinese school, even though he is attending a larger and more prestigious one in a larger urban area, and he happens upon the dancers, and turns out to be a good dancer himself. On top of all of this, Lily is trying to film a fan fiction version of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer with her good friends Lauren and Kelli, hoping to submit the film to a local contest, and go to a nearby ComicCon with these friends. She's hiding this from her friends at Chinese school and her parents, which causes increasing tensions as her friends don't understand why she doesn't show up for all of their plans. Max turns out to be a decent guy, and Lily's friends tell her that they must like each other, but when Max's parents have a plan not only to buy the community center, but to tear it down and build a multi-use office building, she's angry. Is there a way for the center to continue, and will Lily be able to keep her world from shifting drastically?
Strengths: This was an interesting look at a particular community. I loved the community center and the wide range of activities that were hosted there. Lily has several interests and is trying to balance everything, which is a very realistic take on middle school. I loved that she wasn't happy to blindly accept that girls did the fan dances and only boys could be the dragon in the number that was being performed. I'm not usually a fan of the enemy-to-lovers trope, but this had a twist; Max had always found Lily interesting, and the "rivalry" was pretty much all on her part. Tween readers will savor all the levels of drama that this has. 
Weaknesses: Lily is not very understanding of the feelings of others, and seems to create some of her own problems by being very inflexible. Also, Max's parents were very sympathetic when approached about the problems with the new center, so I was surprised that this ended the way it did. I imagine that the building that houses the center needs MAJOR updates! 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who are concerned about changes in their community and have enjoyed books like Giles' Take Back the Block , Reed's Simon B. Rhymin' Gets in the Gameor Dilloway's Five Things About Ava Andrews.

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Emma and the Love Spell

Ireland, Meredith. Emma and the Love Spell
January 23, 2024 by Bloomsbury Children's Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Emma (who was adopted from Korea as an infant) and her parents live in a small, East Coast town that is sort of a budget Salem, Massachusetts. There's a history of witchcraft, and much of the local economy is tied to that past, including the occult themed giftshop the parents run. The family moved to the town a few years ago, when Emma's father's aunt left them the house and shop when she passed away. Emma's father had been a librarian in Boston, but his job was cut, and her mother is a preschool teacher. Once arriving in town, Emma started exhibiting magical abilities, usually tied to emotional highs and lows. When she finds out that her very best friend, Avageline (whom she calls Lina), is going to move to New Orleans because her parents are getting divorced, Emma brews up a storm and rushes home. Her father calms her down with breathing exercises and tea, and reminds her that she needs to stay in control of her magic. The parents are planning a short trip, during which time Emma will stay with neighbor and local baker, Mrs. Cornwall, so they think twice about going. Emma convinces them that these episodes don't happen very often, and that it will be okay. Her plan is to harness her magic to make Lina's parents fall back in love so a move isn't necessary. She's not quite sure how to do this, even though she has the help of Oliver, her great aunt's talking parrott, and Persimmon, a cat who can read minds. After some misplaced anger helps a tree to grow, and Mrs. Cornwall sees it, the two have a talk. Mrs. Cornwall is a witch, and her enchantments are why everyone in town thinks her bakery is fantastic. Emma has always thought it was so-so; this is because it's harder to enchant a fellow witch. Mrs. Cornwall makes Emma feel uneasy, but since she needs help with her plans for Emma's parents, she goes along and helps with the spell. Mrs. Cornwallmakes a cake with a love potion in it for the bake sale Emma is setting up to replicate how Lina's parents met. When Emma starts to realize that Mrs. Cornwall may not have her best interests at heart, will Emma be able to strike out on her own and save her relationship with Lina, whom she begins to realize she likes more than just a friend?
Strengths: Many younger middle school students (myself at that age included!) believe that with just the right circumstances, they would be able to do magic. If that magic could make their best friend not move away, even better! I did enjoy the fact that Lina was not as distraught over the possibility as Emma was, and was willing to make the best of her situation. Middle school is a time when many students have to deal with a divorce, so it was realistic that Lina's parents are shown fighting and sniping at each other. It's also a time when parents start giving children more freedom, and having Mrs. Cornwall watch Emma while her parents traveled made for an interesting interchange. There's a few incantations, spell books, and a family history of magic, as well as some solid attempts by Emma at getting her magic to work. All of these will appeal a lot to nascent witches. Emma and Lina's relationship will also appeal to middle school students who are often experiencing first crushes and romantic relationships. 
Weaknesses: I wish that Emma had been an 8th grader; while my 6th graders will pick this up, I'm not sure my older students will. I would have liked the explanation for the family magic a bit earlier in the book, but the target demographic might prefer thinking that magical powers can just sort of happen. They will also enjoy the connection between magical manifestations and emotions more than I did. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who enjoyed Harrison's A Pinch of Magic , Johnson's Ellie Engle Saves Herself, or Royce's Conjure Island. I'll probably buy a copy, but it wasn't my favorite. 

Monday, January 22, 2024

MMGM-- Amil and the After

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Hiranandani, Veera. Amil and the After
January 23, 2024 by Kokila 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this sequel to The Night Diary, we get to follow the family as they settle in India after being forced to leave Pakistan. Amil, who doesn't do particularly well in school but loves to draw, doesn't keep a diary the way his twin sister Nisha does, but draws scenes of the family's new life as a way to stay connected to the mother he never knew. Kazi is still cooking and taking care of the family, but after the horrible journey to Bombay, is now considered more of a family member. Dadi misses her home terribly, and this has a bad impact on her health, since she is sixty. While the father is working in a hospital as a substitute for another doctor, he is a little worried that he won't be hired on permanently, and that the family will have to move again. Amil struggles with the feeling that while he should feel lucky that all of his family survived and they are now in a good place, he sometimes feels trapped, or unhappy, or wants something, like a bicycle. When he meets Vishal, he admires the boy's ability to draw, and trades his classmate parts of his lunch in exchange for drawing instruction. When he starts to suspect that Vishal doesn't have enough to eat, he starts to bring more food, and the two become friends. Vishal lives in a refugee camp, and has no family of his own. Amil brings him home to wash up, and lends him clothing, but the family's position is still too precarious to take in another person. When Dadi falls and breaks a hip, she spends time in the hospital. At one point, Kazi goes to the hospital to get news, and doesn't come back for some time. It turns out that he has met a teacher from Pakistan and helped her out. Things are very bad in India, and there is concern that Mahatma Ghandi might starve to death during one of his fasts. Vishal returns to the camp, but when he doesn't come to school, Amil is concerned enough to go to find him. Vishal is very sick, and Kazi and Amil's uncle Ashok get him to the hospital. Amil is worried that he might cause his father to loose his job in his attempts to save his friend, but in the end, everything works out fairly well, and Amil even gets a bicycle that he has been coveting. 
Strengths: There are so many displaced children in the world right now, and I wonder how many of them feel the way that Amil does? Certainly, there are displaced children in horrible circumstances, but how many of the ones who have food, clothing, and shelter are still harmed by their trauma and struggle when they have small desires that make them feel guilty? In addition to covering a rare moment in history (1948 India), this has a lot of good thoughts about how to treat people who are different from you, how to help others, and how to deal with being a tween in less than ideal circumstances. Readers who followed Nisha's journey will be very glad to see what has happened to her and her family. Amil's drawings in the book will also appeal to readers with an interest in art. 
Weaknesses: During some of this, Amil seems much younger than twelve, especially since he has already survived so many horrible things. 
What I really think: This was a riveting look at life after Partition, and I can't think of any other books that really cover this. I'm a big fan of books set in India, especially when there are lots of good descriptions of food, and love Hiranandani's How to Find What You're Not Looking For, The Whole Story of Half a Girl, and her Lunch Will Never Be the Same series. 

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Not Quite a Ghost

Ursu, Anne. Not Quite a Ghost 
January 16, 2024 by Walden Pond Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

After her father left the family when she was three, Violet, her mother, and older sister Mia stayed in the house they had shared with him. Now that the family includes step dad Eliot and half brother Owen, they needed more space, so bought an older home in need of some work. Violet ends up with a bedroom in the attic that is musty and has creepy old wallpaper with snaky vines and flowers because Mia says it has a bad vibe for her. While her mom and Eliot are working to renovate the house and to take care of Owen, who has some respiratory problems. Violet has to navigate some friend problems in middle school. She has been friends with Paige and Ally for a long time, but the two have recently decided that it is necessary to have a larger group in middle school and have joined forces with Quinn and Kennedy. The four make fun of Violet for the overalls she wears (that are hand-me-downs from Mia), and her anxieties about things like germs. These anxieties are well founded, since Violet had COVID during the pandemic that sent Owen to the hospital for several days. After playing Truth or Dare at the sleepover and drinking soda that had Kennedy's backwash in it, Violet is horrified that Kennedy is diahnosed with mono. Violet doesn't feel well, and her mother takes her to the doctor right away. All of the tests are clear, but Violet still feels weak and nauseated by smells that others think are slight. At the same time, creepy things start happening in the room. She feels a presence lurking over her shoulder, but can't really tell anyone. She is too weak for gym, and is given a pass, and spends the time in the library, where she meets Will. Will was homeschooled and is doing a report instead of going to gym. He is researching ghosts, and Violet helps him. This leads to further complications with Paige, who accuses Violet of pretending to be sick so she can hang out with him. When the spirit in her room starts to physically harm her, Violet knows she needs help, but doesn't want to involve Will or her cat, Trixie, who seems to sense the spirit. Her physical condition deteriorates, but two doctors both tell her and her mother that her symptoms are probably psychosomatic. Luckily, her mother doesn't believe them, and is rather angry at the suggestion. Will Violet be able to makes progress in both feeling better and in dispatching the evil spirit?
Strengths: Violet is an engaging character who is struggling through the almost universal middle school experience of changing friend groups. Along with the move, she also has to deal with the newly distanced relationship with her older sister, worries about Owen, and some comments about her step father, who is Black, while her mother and estranged father are white. Add a creepy spirit grabbing her from the wall, and that would stress any middle school student. The largest part of this book, however, is an interesting and informative exploration of chronic illness, based on the author's own struggles as a teen with postviral syndrome that went undiagnosed and eventually became myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome. The fact that one of Will's fathers is a pediatrician who listened carefully and assured Violet and her mother that he did NOT think her symptoms were "all in her head" was good to see. There is also some mending of relationships with Mia, as well as the four girls. Dispatching the spirit is something that Violet manages on her own, and I loved the empowerment that showed. 
Weaknesses: I wanted to know a little more about the spirit and her relationship to the house, and sort of hoped that it would be tied to the 1918 flu pandemic, like Hahn's One for Sorrow, but that's just not the direction this took. It is more of a statement about chronic illness than a ghost story; that's not really a weakness, but just wasn't what I was expecting, looking at the cover. A huge portion of fictional children who move have to deal with haunted houses, so it was a reasonable, if incorrect, assumption on my part.  
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who liked the allegorical nature of Malinenko's This Appearing House or who are interested in middle grade adaptations of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper. 

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, January 20, 2024

Courtesy of Cupid

Jones, Nashae. Courtesy of Cupid
January 2, 2024 by Aladdin
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Erin Johnson has a PLAN. She is going to do well in school and eventually grow up and find a cure for the colon cancer that killed her grandmother. It hasn't been easy; her mother is a romance novelist who ghostwrites for clients, her father has never been in the picture, and she's one of the few Black kids in her school. Luckily, she has a good friend, Bruno, whose mother is good friends with her mother, but Bruno's twin, Ben, now is horrible to her. As the new school year starts, Erin has big plans. She is in honors English, and presents her teacher with a copy of a Shakespeare book she thinks that her teacher will like, only to be outdone by her rival, Trevor Jin, whose father has scored free tickets to a production the teacher has always wanted to see. Even worse, she is paired with Trevor for a science project. Trevor has been her nemesis since kindergarten, when he appropriated her story of what she did during the summer, and has ben her academic rival. Now, he's even running for the president of the Multicultural Leadership Club, which she desperately wants to win. When Erin's mother surprises her with a birthday party for her 13th birthday, to which she had the evil Ben invite people, Trevor comes, and is there when her mother starts to read a book she has just submitted, in which the main love interests are called Erin and Trevor! It's mortifying, but even more mortifying is the fact that... Trevor is kind of cute. The next day, some strange things happen to Erin, and when she gets home, her mother informs her that her father was actually Cupid. As in, the god Cupid! Erin has the ability to make people fall in love, and has already magically intwined her friend Bruno and his crush India as well as two of her teachers and the caretakers at the cemetery where she visits her grandmother's grave! 
Strengths: Erin starts out the book with the right idea: Love is kind of useless. Of course, since this is a romance book, she changes her mind all too quickly! It is good that she still has her STEM aspirations and wants to go to Howard University and Johns Hopkins. I wish more of my students had goals. Trevor isn't a horrible person; it's just Erin's view of him. Many of the things he has done that irritated Erin were motivated by the fact that his parents, whom Erin admires, are so busy as doctors that they don't have a lot of time for him. While this feels, in some respects, like a young adult work, it is paced much more quickly, the characters are generally nicer to each other, and the book is not overly long.  It's easy to suspend disbelief about Erin's father being Cupid. The cover makes it very clear that this is a romance, and I think that readers who enjoy Suzanne Nelson's WISH books will be quick to pick this title up.
Weaknesses: The Multicultural Leadership Club presidential campaign is run in a similar was to class president campaigns in middle grade books. In 25 years of teaching, I've never seen any kind of campaign like this. Erin has really good ideas, but I'm not sure they would be practical for schools to carry out. I wish there had been a little more mythology and more of Erin's powers on display!
What I really think: I'm not a fan of the enemies-to-lovers trope; if I hate you, I will hate you FOREVER. There are not a lot of instances of this in middle grade books, which tend to have a rosier and less complicated view of romance, which I prefer. I'm not quite sure how my students feel about this. Middle grade appropriate romances are always in demand, so I'll purchase a copy. 

Ms. Yingling

Friday, January 19, 2024

Something Like Home

Arango, Andrea Beatriz. Something Like Home
September 12, 2023 by Random House Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this novel in verse, Laura Rodgríguez Colón is staying with her aunt, Titi Silva, who is a doctor. Laura's mother and father ran a food truck, but struggled for years with addiction, and were often in no state to take care of their daughter. They are now in rehab, and Janet, the social worker, tries to ease Laura's transition to her aunt's. It's a struggle, not only because her aunt's life is very orderly and has a lot of rules that seem silly, but also because Laura feels that everything is her fault because she called 911 when her parents were unresponsive, and set all of the wheels in motion. Laura thinks that her parents will be back with her in a week, so doesn't understand why she has to start at Riveview Elementary School. She doesn't try to make friends, but Benson is overly friendly. We later find out that he has trouble connecting to classmates because he is frequently ill with sickle cell anemia, and often in the hospital. Things are not going too badly; there's even a kindly librarian, Mrs. Elsa, who sees that Laura is struggling with reading and gives her graphic novels, which she enjoys. Laura also finds an abandoned dog, Sparrow, she brings home, and Titi Silvia lets her keep it. When Laura's parents are not allowed to call her, because it is thought that Laura will distract them from their progress, she hatches the idea that she will train Sparrow to be a therapy dog so that she can get in to see them. She even tries to take Sparrow to the hospital to see Benson, which doesn't end well! After this, however, Titi Silvia sees how important the training is to Laura and helps her to get Sparrow certified. Things are still difficult with her parents, but there is a Court Appointed Special Advocate assigned to Laura who helps her contact them. When they don't show up for a call, Laura is devastated, especially when it turns out they have checked themselves out of rehab. When Laura's mother shows up at school, Laura at first blames herself for not going along with her mother's ruse, and realizes that she might be with her aunt for some time. 
Strengths: Combining foster care with dogs can be very appealing, like in Galante's Strays Like Us and Bauer's Raising Lumie. There are not as many books involving kinship care, although we are certainly seeing more and more students being raised by family members who are not their parents. Certainly, many of these children are with relatives because of addiction issues, so this was a good inclusion. Arango has first hand knowledge of the foster care system, and she's right that books can help students understand what some of their classmates are going through. The addition of dog training gives an added layer of interest. 
Weaknesses: There's a lot of poetic bird imagery that doesn't help the story move forward. Birds are one of those odd things, like pirates or carnivals, that my students don't seem to like at all. I don't understand it; I'm just reporting it! It's not so ovewhelming that it would cause a reader not to pick up the book; even the imagery on the cover is fairly subdued. Since dogs are popular, I think they will outweigh the birds. 
What I really think: It's always good to see a child in an alternative family situation have an additional interest, but there are several titles where that is animal based, like Bailey's Snow Foal and Lewis' Scarlet Ibis. Titles like Farr's Pavi Sharma's Guide to Going Home or O'Shaughnessy's Lasagna Means I Love You cover other topics. Since this is one of the few titles involving foster care that are written in verse, that does set it apart. 

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, January 18, 2024

The Dollhouse Murders

Weeding has begun. It is NOT a fun part of the job. My method this year? After checking a Titlewave analysis for older titles (and parting with a few favorites that no one ever read), I went down the shelves and looked at the TOP of the books. Were they dusty? Super worn? Stained with unidentifiable substances? Granted, many that fit this description do so because they are still read all the time, but there were a lot that weren't. I plopped a stack of vintage prebound Fear Street books on a table in front of a group of 8th graders and asked if anyone wanted to read them. Pages crackled audibly and started to separate from the spines when the books were opened. The concensus on odor was "They don't smell BAD... but they don't smell GOOD." 

Weeding is necessary. Go weed. 

Wright, Betty Ren. The Dollhouse Murders
First published January 1, 1983 by Scholastic
October 9, 2018 by Holiday House
Library copy

**Spoilers everywhere, so proceed with caution if you haven't seen this in the forty years since it was published.**

Amy is tired of her family; her sister Louann is developmentally delayed, and difficult to take out in public. Her friend Ellen is somewhat understanding, but is starting to pull back from the friendship because hanging out with Amy is not easy or fun. Amy's mother works, which is why Louann's care falls to Amy after school. After a particularly stressful day, Amy runs off to her Aunt Clare's just to get away. Aunt Clare is cleaning out the family home and getting ready to sell it, so asks Amy's parents if Amy can spend some time "keeping her company". While cleaning the attic, Amy finds a dollhouse that Aunt Clare's grandparents had given her when she was fifteen. She was too old by that time to be interested in the dollhouse, and resented it, but there are other reasons she's not thrilled to find this relic of the past. Aunt Clare is a lot older than Amy's father, and has had a difficult life. After the death of both parents, Clare and her brother moved into the old house with their grandparents, but in 1952, both grandparents were brutally murdered in the house while the brother hid in a closet. Soon after, Clare's older boyfriend was killed in a drunk driving accident, and it's always been assumed that he killed the grandparents. Amy and Ellen investigate more about the accident at the library (using microfiche of newspapers!) and later the aunt finds the dolls arranged to imitate the murder scene, she's not happy. In the meantime, Louann is doing well going to a neighbor's house after school, but when the girls mother is called away to help with a family medical emergency out of state, Louann comes to Aunt Clare's as well. Unfortunately, this happens right when Amy is having her 13th birthday party, and the girls fight. Luckily, they are able to figure out the mystery of the dollhouse and put the ghosts to rest. Aunt Clare has closure, and we hope she is able to sell the haunted house and live the rest of her life in peace. 

Strengths: There is a foreword by R.L. Stine, which is a very nice tribute, and the new cover makes this look much more appealing. I feel like the story has been tweaked a little, and Louann's condition isn't really diagnosed; in earlier editions she might have been called "brain damaged". 
Weaknesses: Styles have changed a lot in forty years, and I'm not quite sure how this will resonate with current readers. 
What I really think: I bought thte 35th anniversary edition, but probably shouldn't have. However, it HAS been in constant circulation ever since the copy came in. Even though a lot of people say this scared them when they were young, it doesn't seem scary today. On the upside, it does involve murder, which my students ask for all the time. The new cover helps, as does the length, which is just 150 pages. I'm not sure how doll houses will resonate with today's readers, but certainly the ghosts and family problems will go over well. Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Shark Teeth

Winston, Sherri. Shark Teeth
January 16, 2024 by Bloomsbury Children's Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Sharkita's mother was very young when Sharkita was born, and has struggled with many aspects of parenting. She has also struggled with alcoholism, and Kita and her siblings (developmentally disabled Lamar and six year old Lilli) have spent time in foster care. Things have been stable for a while. The mother has taken money from an insurance settlement and bought a town home in a pleasant area, and even gets a job early in the book. Kita, though, is always afraid that things will go back to they way they were. She pays the bills, bathes and feeds her younger sibling, and makes sure that the house is always clean, just in case social service workers visit to assess how they are doing. Her grandmother is not helpful, and causes friction when she does get involved. Since things seem calm, Kita takes a chance and tries out for the baton twirling squad; her mother allows her do to this after school because she herself wasinvolved in the sport while in school. Kita is glad to hang out with her friend Niecy and have a bit of a "normal" tween experience, but it is always in the back of her mind that things could go wrong at any moment. This fear is even voiced by Lilli, which alarms Kita. Kita benefits from talking to the school counselor, and the school does know about her past and checks in with her, but she always tell them that things are fine. When her mother tells her that she will be gone overnight but will be back in the morning, Kita is more worried than ever, but her mother is true to her word and there when she says she will be. Social services is notified, and a caseworker who had met Kita when she was about three years old is sympathetic, but can find nothing concrete that is wrong. Eventually, however, the mother demands that Kita miss a social activity in order for the mother to go out with friends, and Kita refuses. In the absence of supervision, Lamar starts a fire. In the aftermath, the children are placed with different families. These are generally okay, and Kita does her best to remain focuses and positive, but when another child beats her up and she is hospitalized, a more permanent solution comes forward. When her mother texts her, Kita is worried that she might come to a get together of the children, but things work out. It's not ideal, but Kita realizes that her mother is just not capable of giving her the care she deserves, and that she is actually much happier with her new situation. 
Strengths: This was an excellent example of the Boxcar Children Effect; there's something appealing to middle school readers about characters who are abused or neglected but manage to remain strong and overcome their circumstances. The inclusion of helpful adults like twirl coach and assistant principal Dr. Sapperstein, a school counselour, and a social worker. There are also helpful discussions about coping strategies for anxiety, and about panic attacks. Despite all of her challenges, Kita is trying to do middle school activities and maintain her friendships, which is good to see. My favorite part was probably the description of how Kita's mother managed to come back from a difficult situation, have a stable homelife, and get a good job. Sadly, that didn't last for very long. 
Weaknesses: While the concept of "shark teeth" (hyperdontia) is an interesting one and having this condition informs a lot of Kita's character, there could have been a little more explanation of this. Her fear of sharks tied in thematically, but there was so much going on in her life to make her anxious, even without this fear, that it wasn't all that necessary.
What I really think: This is a realistic look at a tween struggling with family problems, and will be a good choice for readers who like books where children are in trouble but stay strong, like Moranville's Forget-Me-Not Blue, O'Shaughnessy's Lasagna Means I Love You, and Farr's Pavi Sharma's Guide to Going Home. It's probably my favorite title by Winston, who also wrote The Braid Girls, Lotus Bloom and the Afro Revolution, and the Wednesday and Woof early chapter book series. 

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Lost Time

Mukanik, Tasha. Lost Time
October 3, 2023 by Razorbill
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

In this graphic novel, Evie finds herself catapulted back 67.5 million years to the cretaceous period in North America after a fight with her mothers. Her mothers, who study ancient creatures, wanted her to travel back with them, but Evie was scared. Running away, she managed to accidentally get transported by herself. She does find an abandoned research center, and working taped logs of the scientists there. After picking up an egg and hatching a Quetzalcoatlus (whom she names Ada), Evie dedicates herself to listening to the tapes and caring for herself and her growing "pet". When she finds that the scientists had a temporal communicator, but that it is stored at a far flung location, she teaches Ada to let her ride on her back. This takes some time, and there are always other ancient creatures to deal with, but the two soon set out. They find another abandoned station, as well as the tempcom, but Ada manages to drop it in the sea. Heading home dejected and longing to speak to her mothers, Evie finds brief solace in caring for an injured T Rex, Prince, who comes to her rescue after fire devastates the research station. Will Evie ever be able to find her mothers and return to the present? 

Readers who enjoy manga will like the vivid style of the pictures, and those who struggle with text will appreciate the many wordless panels, showcasing scenes of survival, daily life, or Evie's longing to be with her parents. The drawings of dinosaurs (and other ancient creatures), as well as the notes in the back on different species, will please the children who are obsessed with these animals and can identify all of the different ones by name. 

This is an easy to follow story with not a lot of text, which is great for emergent readers but left me wanting to know a lot more about certain aspects of Evie's story. I also have my doubts about Evie's ability to tame a prehistoric Quetzalcoatlus and T Rex, but if she can travel 67.5 million years into the past, she should be allowed to do just about anything she wants. 

There are not a lot of fictional books about dinosaurs, and Nat Geo Kids has two fantastic guides;  How to Survive in the Age of Dinosaurs and The Dinosaur Atlas. There is another graphic novel, Plumeri's 2014 In the Beginning: Dinosaurs #1, and Martin's 2016 The Ark Plan series, but there could be a lot more books set during this time, like the old television show Land of the Lost,  or set in the modern era with dinosaurs, like Jurassic Park. Since there aren't, definitely pick up Lost Time for a young dinosaur fan. 

This would be a good choice for an elementary school; I don't know that I would have purchased this for my middle school, but since I got a copy for review, I'll include it in the collection since there aren't as many adventure oriented graphic novels. There's just not as much of a plot or character development as middle grade usually has. 

Ms. Yingling

Monday, January 15, 2024

Nightshade's Revenge and David Atherton's Baking Book

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Horowitz, Anthony. Nightshade's Revenge (Alex Rider #13)
January 16, 2024 by Philomel Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In his short career with MI6, Alex has managed to take down the evil organization Scorpia and fight Nightshade, but was not able to take them down. He did what he could, but he's glad to be back at school. Exams are a bit of a struggle when you're off fighting international criminals every other week, but he's relishing the short time he has remaining to be in school with his best friend Tom, who has decided he won't be going to college. The two decide to take a break from studying and go skateboarding... but of course, Tom is kidnapped by Nightshade. Alex goes after him, but is soon approached in his home by Brother Mike, who tells him that the organization will kill Tom unless Alex goes to the prison and helps Freddy Gray escape. Alex has been visiting Freddy, who was an operative for Nightshade, and feels that Freddy is making good progress turning his life around, especially since his parents also come to visit them. Freddy is being held in a very secure location, but with the help of some gadgets, Alex manages to get in. He breaks him out and is worried that Freddy will go back to Nightshade, but when Freddy does a favor for Alex (I don't want to spoil things, but Freddy manages to NOT kill someone Alex thinks will die), he knows Freddy is not acting for Nightshade. Alex is supposed to be investigating the death of Steven Chan, who was investigating the video game company Real Time, on behalf of a man whose son died playing the game. He's ended up in California, working again with Ben, and tries to hunt down Jon Lucas, who once worked for Real Time and may have some evil plans in place. Alex is also trying to get Mrs. Jones' son, William, out of Nightshade. Will Alex be able to neutralize Nightshade enough so that he can concentrate on passing his GCSEs?
Strengths: Smithers is back! Smithers is one of my favorite characters, and I didn't quite realize that in the 2006 film, he was played by Stephen Fry! That's about as perfect as it gets. There are some great gadgets, including a business card that can be dropped into a cup of tea and emits a gas that puts people to sleep. Always a fan of the gadgets. It's good that Alex gets to see Sabina in California, and since she mentioned that her family is moving back to England, I think there's at least one more book that could be written. After all, we need to see if Jack passes her law exams! It was great to see Alex skateboarding, and Tom is a long suffering but very good friend. As always, Horowitz's writing just gets better and better; crisp, to the point, and action packed. I imagine that his knowledge of exotic locations has been gleaned by traveling there when his film writing is being produced. For those of us who hardly ever leave home, it's always fun to travel vicariously with Alex! Another great volume of exciting spy adventures! 
Weaknesses: Ah, poor Freddy. Just doesn't end well. Also, wasn't the very first Stormbreaker involved with evil video games? Oh, well. It's always a popular topic, so I didn't mind that much. 
What I really think: Invariably, when I am suggesting Stormbreaker to a student, there is another student nearby who has read the series and pipes up that it is excellent. It still the number one book in my library over the last twenty years. If you work with middle grade readers and HAVEN'T read these books, you really need to pick up a couple of them. I'm particularly fond of Scorpia and Secret Weapon (and personally own TWO copies of the latter!). 

Stormbreaker #1 (2000)
Point Blank #2 (2001)
Skeleton Key #3(2002)
Eagle Strike #4 (2003)
Scorpia #5 (2004)
Ark Angel #6 (2005)
Snakehead #7 (2007)
Crocodile Tears #8 (2009)
Scorpia Rising #9 (2011)
Russian Roulette (prequel, #10) (2013)
Never Say Die #11(2017)
Secret Weapon  (2019)(short stories)
 (#12) (2020)

Atherton, David. David Atherton's Baking Book for Kids
September 19, 2023 by Candlewick Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Having read this author's Bake, Make, and Learn to Cook: Fun and Healthy Recipes for Young Cooks (which has my favorite illustrations; the teal and orange colors are fantastic) as well as Bake, Make, and Learn to Cook Vegetarian: Healthy and Green Recipes for Young Cooks, I was interested to see this volume of baked goods by Atherton, who apparently was a Great British Baking Show Winner. (I've never watched it, but I know there are a lot of avid fans.) This one, illustrated by Harry Woodgate, had a good variety of things to bake, including samosas and sausage rolls, proving that baking doesn't have to be all sweets. 

The recipes are clear and concise, and there is the requisite overview of supplies, techniques, and ingredients at the beginning of the book. The baked goods do seem rather British (which only makes sense) and includes Hot Cross Hedgehogs, Chocolate Chip Buns, and some very convoluted things with bread dough, and well as a scone volcano that seemed reminiscent of Farrow's The Official Harry Potter Baking Book. The British don't make as many cookies as we do in the US because their biscuit manufacturing is so strong, but they do seem to like to spend a lot more time forcing bread dough into odd shapes than I do!

There's a nice cut up butterfly cake, although it has nothing on the Baker's Easy Cut-Up Party Cakes book, and a yummy looking Jam roll Swiss Roll that I might try even though rolling up the cake in a tea towel has always seemed like a difficult proposition! There's a custard cream recipe that also looks tempting, although I am unsure of why it was necessary to include canned corn in the recipe. The cookie options are heavy on bars. The birthday ombre cake on the cover is included in the chapter on Showstoppers, along with a cherry pie. 

I always wanted to bake with my mother when I was growing up and still love to read cookbooks. This is a great choice for the budding baker in your life who will be glad to have a copy of this to shelve next to titles like Klutz Books' Magical Baking, Strand's Kids in the Holiday Kitchen, Williams' Spooky Snacks and Treats, and Goldman's fantastic Super Good Cookies for Kids