Thursday, February 29, 2024

I Will Follow and The Girls From Hush Cabin

Corrigan, Eireann. I Will Follow 
February 6, 2024 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Nora is obsessed with the social media dance stare Shea, as a way to detach from her life. Her mother has passed away, and her father, whom she calls Sonny, is a disaster prepper who has the two living in a remote location in shipping containers. Shea has her own probles; she started dancing after her father died and her mother slipped into a deep depression. Now, her mother is engaged to marry her best friend Delaney's father. Delaney, who is nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns, is supportive of Shea but a little bitter about her almost a million followers and the free items she gets from sponsors and fans. The two are planning an elaborate dance for the parents' wedding, and have a disagreement about whether or not it should be posted. They barely notice that Nora shows up at the dance studio, claiming to have scheduled it. Later, Shea goes to the fair, and is irritated that her mother has scheduled an appearance. She just wants to hang out with her friends, but when she is in the funhouse, Nora approaches her an drugs her with an injection! Having stolen her father's truck, Nora drags Shea, drooling and half conscious, into the truck and takes off into the wilderness, heading toward a family cabin. There, she handcuffs Shea to the bed and outlines her plan. The two of them will become best friends, and create new content together. Nora even goes as far as pressing the sleeping Shea's thumb to her phone screen to unlock it, changing the password, and posting pictures on the account hinting that she is on vacation. Shea tries to survive. While Nora feeds her and even gives her medicine for the wound caused by the handcuffs, she is mercurial, and Shea never knows how she will react. The two do some dances together, but these cause concern for Shea's family, who have alerted the police to her disappearance. The police, however, are treating it as a runaway teen situation. Nora is enraged by the negative comments about her dancing. Clearly unstable (early on, she is shown communicating with an older sister about much needed therapy sessions), Nora holds Shea captive. As the videos include more and more bizarre music, the family try to figure out where Shea is being held. Will they be able to locate her before Nora's behavior becomes unsafe?
Strengths: I'm not sure my students will appreciate it, but I did love Shea's insights on her social media presence, and how perhaps certain actions were unwise. I do tell my students they shouldn't post pictures of themselves at school or in local sports uniforms, and this clearly shows why. The thing that will  make this popular is the abduction; fifteen years ago I couldn't keep titles like Mazer's The Solid Gold Kid (1977), Nixon's The Kidnapping of Christina Lattimore (1979), Duncan's Ransom (1990), and of course, the hugely popular The Face on the Milk Carton (1990) by Caroline Cooney. Henry's The Girl in the White Van (2020) and The Night She Disappeared (2012). I'm not entirely sure why abduction stories strike such a cord in middle grade readers, but they do. This has a good level of threatening behaviors without being too scary. I also appreciated the shout out to Warner's The Boxcar Children. 
Weaknesses: Once again, Scholastic only publishes horror in paperback. Corrigan's Remedy (2021), Creep (2019), and Accomplice (2010) all circulate steadily, so I would love to have this in hardcover. 
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and this will be popular with students; just look at that creepy cover. Once I mention social media, there will be fights breaking out. Maybe I should buy two copies. 

Hoy-Kenny, Marie. The Girls From Hush Cabin.
August 15, 2023 by Blackstone Publishing
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Holly, Denise, Calista, and Zoe are all in high school, ready to plan the next chapters of their lives when they find out that their favorite camp counselor, has died. Violet, who was a strong swimmer, drowned in her mother's swimming pool, and the girls suspect foul play right away. When Violet was their counselor, her boyfriend went missing, and another girl at the camp was found dead, so there is reason to be suspicious. The four reconvene for a long weekend to attend the funeral and other memorial events, and try to solve the mystery despite other problems going on in their lives. Holly is glad to be away from home, where she lives with her mother after her father's death, and her very controlling boyfriend. Zoe is hoping to meet a young man to marry, since her college prospects are limited, and even spends times on dating apps, meeting men in bars with a fake identity card. Denise is romantically interested in one of the college friends that is grieving Violet's passing, Janie, which causes complications. Calista has a large, close-knit family, and isn't sure how she will be able to move forward without them. As the story unfolds, we find that Violet had a lot of influence over the girls, who were in late elementary and middle school. For the first four years, Violet was a fun counselor, but during the last year, she took an odd turn. She had the girls spying on other campers, stealing items from people, and generally being sneaky and dishonest. What part did she have in the disappearance of her boyfrience, and the death of the girl? What did she do that caused the past to have such serious repercussions? And will the former campers investigating her death solve the mystery and manage to stay safe themselves?

Summer camp seems like such an innocent experience, and the girls have generally good memories of Violet. Slowly, details begin to emerge about the ways that she manipulated and mistreated their trust, but I don't want to spoil any of the plot! There's plenty of dark secrets, clandestine assignations, and murderous subplots to keep readers turning the pages of this dark and twisted tale. 

This is told from alternate viewpoints of the four main characters, Holly, Denise, Calista, and Zoe. I found this to be a little confusing, but readers who enjoy this style will love the deep dives into the circumstances of each. I thought Holly was the most interesting character, and was glad that she was able to get away from her controlling boyfriend, but didn't like the way that the other girls treated her.

Since the girls often engage in more adult behaviors, like drinking, and have a more mature vocabulary, this is more suited to young adult readers who enjoyed titles like Natasha Preston's The Island (2023)and Stoffel's Fright Night (2020). Younger readers who want similarly creepy titles with a more upper middle grade approach to social behavior might look instead at Henry's Eyes of the Forest (2021).

Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Partition Project

Faruqi, Saadia. The Partition Project
February 27, 2024 by Quill Tree Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Maha Raheem thinks that her family, including dietician mother, doctor father, and older basketball playing brother Talha, is perfect. Of course, she only thinks that because now that her father's mother, Dadi, is coming from Pakistan to live with them, her life is ruined. Maha is very invested in the idea that she can become a journalist when she grows up, and is irritated that her media class is assigned to do a documentary. She had hoped they would write news articles. She's also irritated that she has to "babysit" Dadi, who is almost 90, and has some aches and pains. Dadi isn't all that thrilled, either, because she doesn't feel as useful as she did back home, where she was retired from teaching math. When Maha starts to listen to her grandmother relate stories about her childhood, she is amazed to find out about the Partition of India, and learns that her grandmother was forced to leave her home and start over in Pakistan. As she gets to know more about her grandmother's life and how it intersects with history, Maha uses this information for her school project. She interviews her grandmother, as well as others at the Senior Center the two visit every Saturday. She also learns some things about modern day Pakistan from new student, Ahmed, whose family has just moved from there. Her interest in this project does run her afoul of her best friend, Kim, who is working with her on another school project involved The Lightning Thief, and after the two fight because Maha isn't reading the book, Maha tries to make it up to her friend by honoring her friend's Korean ancestry and reporting on Lai's Inside Out and Back Again. Maha has a new appreciation for history and its part in news reporting, and also comes to enjoy having her grandmother living with the family, especially since her cooking is much better than Maha's mother and brother's! 
Strengths: Maha is a typical middle school student who gets heavily invested in her own interests and tends to forget other things, like her book project with Kim. Her family is realistically busy, and Dadi's arrival seems fairly typical of how grandparents are often added to family life. I was very glad that Maha was interested in the Partition, since it is my second favorite horrible historical event, right behind the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. More people should know about it, and this is a fast paced book that includes just enough friend and family drama to make it an easy sell for students who, like Maha, aren't immediately interested in history. Faruqi has been a publishing powerhouse in the last few years, with everything from the early chapter book Meet Yasmin series (2018), A Place at the Table (with Laura Shovan, 2020), A Thousand Questions (2020), Must Love Pets (2022), Marya Khan (2022), the graphic novel Saving Sunshine (2023), and even the collective biography, The Wonders We Seek (2022). 
Weaknesses: This was on the longer side, but also included a lot of different sub plots. Dadi's story is so important that I wished there were less about Tiffany and her grandfather and Maha's love of journalism so that the book concentrated more on Dadi and information about the Partition. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who want to learn more about the Partition and may have read Senzai's Ticket to India, those who like to read about struggles with identity, as in Kelkar's As American as Paneer Pie, or who want to know what it is like to have a grandparent move in with their family, ala Shang's The Great Wall of Lucy Wu. I feel like there are more books about grandparents coming (especially from other countries) to move in with a family with tweens and teens, but other than Smith's horribly dated 1984 The War with Grandpa, I can't seem to find them. 

Other middle grade books about the Partition include Bradbury's A Moment Comes (2013) and Outside In (2017), Senzai's Ticket to India (2015), Kelkar's Ahimsa (2017), and Hiranandani's The Night Diary (2018, mentioned in the book).

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Bumps in the Night

Howard, Amalie. Bumps in the Night
February 20, 2024 by Delacorte Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

After almost thirteen-year-old Darika Lovelace vandalizes a school wall with her artwork, she is sent from Colorado to live with her grandmother, Delilah, out in the Trinadadian countryside. She's angry for many reasons; her mother Dulcie has been gone for several years and has not contacted her at all, her father has remarried and has other children, and there isn't even any internet at her grandmother's house. When Rika had visited when she was nine, her grandmother was mentoring an older girl named Monique who was possessive and nasty. There are a few good things about being with her grandmother, including the fact that her grandmother is having Rika clean out an older part of the house, including her mother's childhood bedroom. Rika hopes to get some insights into her mother's whereabouts, since her grandmother is oddly secretive about everything. This is actually a fairly awful plan on her grandmother's part. Rika has seen some odd people and things around, including a woman who acted oddly at the airport, Ushara. Neither the grandmother or her handyman will tell Rika anything, but they do demand that she stay away from parts of the property. Once she makes friends with a baby iguana and children from the area, she gets herself in some supernatural trouble with Bazil, a bad guy who seems to know a lot about her mother's disappearance. Rika is sent on a quest by Bazil, along with Nox, Hazel, Monique, and Fitz, an has to beat his challenge in order to shed light on a whole host of family secrets. Will Rika be able to be reunited with her mother, and will she learn more about the fact that she is actually a witch?
Strengths: This was an interesting look at summer with a grandmother who also happens to be a witch but isn't telling you anything. There are lots of good details about the house, the surrounding area, and the local traditions of magic. There are some interesting literary shout outs, including one to "old favorites" that Rika and her high school math teacher mother had in common, including Riordan's Percy Jackson. I did the math, and, yeah, the mother of a 13-year-old could have read The Lightnight Thief in middle school. Rika is able to assemble a team of local children to help her with her efforts to find out more about her mother. I love the cover on this one! 
Weaknesses: This has several middle grade fantasy tropes; finding out about powers at 13, going on a quest that involves going underground, answering riddles, and defeating a bad character, a missing parent, etc. Young readers who haven't read as many fantasy books as I have won't care. I also didn't quite understand why Rika's grandmother just didn't tell her the truth.
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who like culturally infused horror books like Traoré, Efua. Children of the Quicksands, Bourne's Nightmare IslandHendrix's Adia Kelbara and the Circle of Shamans, or Abu-Jaber's Silverworld.

Just a side note: I don't believe in anything I can't see and explain, so I don't believe in douens or jumbies or witches. That being said, if my grandmother had told me not to do something AND I had seen some creepy things, I absolutely would have listened to her. If I came from a culture that DID believe in the supernatural the way that Trini culture does (Baptiste's The Jumbies is another good example of a book that incorporates these elements), I would not be messing around outside. Of course, I also have every confidence that no supernatural evil would have dared set foot on my Pennsylvanian Presbyterian grandmother's farm. She would have been able to wither it with a glance! 

Monday, February 26, 2024

MMGM- Social Media

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

It looks like books about social media are finally here. We'll see more. In ten years, these will seem pretty dated, although Instagram has held on strong for a dozen years or so. 

These books made me realize that while having thousands of followers on Twitter would be cool, I... don't really care. I hate going on social media, I take horrible pictures, and I don't really understand how to get more views. Never making videos, which seems to be the hot new thing. 

Instead of spending hours on various apps, I spend hours actually reading. I don't need the world to tell me I'm an expert at middle grade literature. I am. If you want a book review every single day, I'm here. 

Parks, Amy Noelle. Averil Offline 
February 13, 2024 by Nancy Paulsen Book
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Averil and her sister Delia cope with their parents' overprotective habits in very different ways. While Delia (who is in high school) often ignores their requests and fights with them, Averil just wants it to be quiet and conflict free in her world, so she just puts up with it. Both girls were born very prematurely, and almost died, so Averil understands her mother's actions even as they irritate her. The worst offender is the Ruby Slippers app which tracks everything Averil does with her phone and reports it to her mother. If she takes to long to walk home from school, or if she doesn't answer her mother's text soon enough, her mother panics, and sometimes an alarm goes off! Both Averil and her best friend Priya are interested in coding, and Averil loves when the coding of a program is nice and clean and works properly. The two are in a coding class with few girls, and a teacher who seems enamored of the speed of a Steve Jobs wannabe even when Averil's coding is much better. When new student and Rich kid Max approaches her in class and wants to meet after school for ice cream to talk about changes that the company is going to make to Ruby Slippers, Averil gives Priya her phone so she can have a moment to herself. Max, whose father is a tech entrepreneur, outlines the strategies of Rider Woolyback, the creator of the app, which has been sold to a larger company. Although reclusive, he had at one point issued a statement saying that if the app hurt children, he would work to change it. Since his office is in a secret location at nearby Clarion College, Max has a plan. He and Averil, along with Priya, are supposed to go to a coding camp over spring break. He wants Averil to not go, but to spend three days hanging around the campus, trying to talk to Woolyback, who makes people jump through hoops like chess games and puzzles before meeting. Averil doesn't want to rock the boat and says no... until she catches her mother reading a notebook she promised NOT to read. Before she knows it, Max's parents are asking her parents around to dinner at their posh house, and Max's driver is dropping them off on the Clarion campus to get the bus to camp. Max has called the camp about their absences, provided proper documentation of strep through, and Priya and Max's friend have the runaway duo's phones so their parents think they are at camp. Priya is even prepared to answer texts and send photos of "Averil's" healthy meals! Running away is a little rocky, but the two do really well, finding a place to sleep in the college library and even brushing their teeth! Averila even makes sure to get vegetables and fruit at all their meals. They find Woolyback's office, but have to answer a question about the most expensive hyphen mistake... without their phones! Their research skills rule, and they are granted admission. Talking to Woolyback's assistant, Loriel Cady Krowb, the only help they get is that she will forward the message. But what's really going on? There's a bigger mystery behing the Ruby Slipper app, and the two are determined to find it, even after running into Delia. How will Averil and Max find a way to get the freedom to make their own mistakes?
Strengths: Kids doing things! Not only that, but kids doing things that they are not supposed to do! For good reasons! Oh, this ticked all the boxes. Didn't we all have moments in middle school when we were irritated with our parents and wanted to run away from home? I was going to live in the woods near my aunt's house and get food from the fridge in her garage if I needed to! Max has made excellent plans, and asks Averil because he admires her ability and intelligence. Do the two have a tiny crush on each other? Perhaps, but it's based on mutual respect and confined to actions like holding on to the other's hair ribbon or hoodie, so very much like the great relationship in Heldring's The Football Girl. I'm not a fan of puzzles, but even I was intrigued by the questions, as well as how they solved several of the problems. There's a good mix between the nitty gritty of running away and the philosophical focus on women in computer fields. Plus, this was just FUN! I especially liked how Delia and Averil ended up getting their parents to see their point of view. For kids to be okay with giving up their phones and being grounded until the parents quit relying on the Ruby Slippers app, and to not fight or argue but to be steadfast in their determination was brilliant. There was so much to love about this title by the author of The Summer of Brave.
Weaknesses: I loved the Anne of Green Gables and The Wizard of Oz references (I mean, why didn't I name my daughters Averil and Cordelia?), but I'm not sure middle grade readers will understand them. As much as a cultural fixture as The Wizard of Oz was for generations, thanks to the annual airing of the movie, my students don't seem to be familiar with it. Small quibble in a fantastic story. 
What I really think: We are starting to see more middle grade novels involving technology, and it's time. Might the be dated in ten years when we all have cell phones imbedded in our brains? Possibly. This is my new book crush, and I'm buying at least two copies. I'm thinking of buying a third so I can encourage the teachers to read this one as well. Very much enjoyed this; most of the books I've been reading have been rather sloggy with Deep Messages, so this was a delight.

Kyi, Tanya Lloyd. Emily Posts
February 6, 2024 by Tundra Books
Copy provided by Edelweiss Plus

It's always just been Emily and her mother, who is an events planner at a boutique hotel. When her mother decides to move in with her boyfriend Richard, whom she is planning on marrying, Emily's calm life is disrupted by the change. Richard's eight year old son, Ocean, is particularly irritating, since he is loud and often breaks things. Emily is determined to be a social media influencer, and is very irritated that her mother won't let her post her picture on her YouHappy account. She's sure this is why she only has thirty followers, which is going to make it hard to monetize and get product placement agreements. She idolizes Asha Jamil, an actress who played an astronaut on a television show and posts frequently on the app about her lifestyle and environmental issues. Emily and her friend Simone, who wants to be a sustainable fashion designer when she grows up, are in charge of the school podcast, which is supervised by librarian Mr. Chadwick. The two hope to translate the skills they learn doing that into big social media accounts, but are struggling with the strictures the school puts in place. Principal Mr. Lau nixes a podcast they have put together that encourages students to attend a climate march, feeling that it's dangerous for middle school students to leave school in the middle of the day. Further complicating matters is new student, Amalie, who is pretty, claims to be a vegan, and really turns Simone's head. After Emily gets in trouble for publishing her climate march podcast without permission because she felt it was the right thing to do, Simone and Amalie are not only put in charge of the podcast, but are given the opportunity to interview Asha Jamil when she comes to town. Emily is stuck without her phone after her mother finds out that she posted pictures of herself, and she gets stuck babysitting Ocean, who blackmails her with an audio recording of her struggling with the family bidet. Emily finds out that Mr. Lau has changed the date of Jamil's visit to coincide with the climate march, so that students don't want to leave school, but Emily uncovers an even darker agenda with new corporate sponsors CA Energy and CoastFresh foods, who are talking about funding a new auditorium for the school, as well as other perks. Will Asha Jamil support CA Energy? Is Mr. Lau doing something shady? And, above all, what would Emily Post say about all of the manners of the modern day? 
Strengths: Yep. Most of the 6th graders want to grow up to be social media influencers without having any idea of how much work goes into it. There are plenty of good details about what one needs to do, and to Emily's credit, she has done her research and is really trying to "build her brand". I also REALLY appreciated the fact that she only jumps from 30 followers to 50; After almost twenty years, I still only have about 300 followers of this blog! The blended family dynamics add a lot to this story; I love that Richard cooks, but has poor taste in artwork, and that Emily doesn't really mind him. The friend drama is spot on. Even though Amalie is perfectly nice, I kind of wanted to slap her. While this might one day be as dated as Pfeffer's Rewind to Yesterday (1988), tweens really need to see how social media influences others who are their age in order to understand how they use it themselves. 
Weaknesses: While I found the inclusion of the historical Emily Post fascinating, modern readers will not know who she is. I would have swapped out Ocean and his bratty antics (which were realistic, but stressful to read about) for more concrete tips on how to behave in public. My students certainly would benefit from some of them! The inclusion of the mother and Richard sexting was a bit...odd. It was handled really well, but who in their right mind would ever do anything that questionable on a device?
What I really think: Add this to a growing list of social media related novels like Sax's Picture Day (2023) Hart's Marcus Makes it Big (2022), It Happened on Saturday (2023) and  Feldman's Eza Exposed (2023) for all of the students who KNOW they are going to be the Next Big Thing. 

Yang, Kelly. Finally Heard 
February 27, 2024 by Simon & Schuster BYR
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Now that Lina has settled in to her new life in the US (depicted in Finally Seen), she is concerned about helping her mother grow her bath bomb business by starting a social media presence. After contacting an influencer who wants to charge $5,000 to pitch her bath bombs, Lina's mother reluctantly agrees that Lina and her younger sister Millie can help with the videos, even though she has reservations about children on social media. Lina has her own issues; she's feeling uncomfortable about her changing body, and tends to hide in baggy sweatshirts. She wishes that she were comfortable in front of a camera like her archnemesis, Jessica, whose mother sells the steam from cooked brocolli as expensive "brocolli water". When the first video for the bath bomb video results in a lot of business, her mother takes a lot of time to consistently post content, even though it means staging the videos in IKEA because the family apartment is too small! Lina is relieved that things are going well, and thrilled when her mother gives her her old phone. She downloads all the apps she can except for Discord, because she's run out of memory. While her teacher, Mrs. Carter, talks about how social media affects students' brains, Lina still gets sucked into caring too much about what life looks like online. She even coats her face in glitter glue after seeing posts about "glazed doughnut skin". She and Carla and Finn are helping other small businesses in the neighborhood with their social media, and getting paid for it, but not everything is positive. Finn is struggling with his parents' divorce, and saying mean things on Discord because "it's not real, it's like a video game", and Carla is chatting with a boy whose father also isn't in the picture... but who isn't exactly who he claims to be. When everything blows up right around the time the school has an informational session about the dangers of social media, will Lina be able to find a way to use social media more rationally?
Strengths: Many of the incidents in this book are based on bad social media interactions Yang's own children had, and there are even notes at the back of the book on some of the things children should keep in mind when consuming social media. I'm sure this is very realistically done, but I'm not as current on social media as I should be (Discord is a real app, by the way). I did like that Lina was able to talk to her grandmother in China, and that she had generally good relationships with Carla and Finn. Younger readers will love their success on social media, and be amused by all of the trends. The information about how social media affects the brains is important. 
Weaknesses: I know that Yang wanted to include a lot of different problems that children face in this book, but there was a lot of information, and the story could have been more focused. As she points out through Mrs. Carter, social media is making it harder for children to concentrate, so some of my students will find 352 pages a bit long. 
What I really think: My students enjoyed Front Desk because it was fun, and also had deeper content. As adults, we like to read books that are entertaining, but want books for kids to have Important Life Lessons. Lina's discomfort over her changing body is certainly something that many children feel, but in combination with the social media concerns, the story does come closer to being didactic than I expected. It's a tough balance. I will purchase this, since my students have been eagerly awaiting this sequel, but I didn't enjoy the book the way I enjoyed Park's Averil Offline

Sunday, February 25, 2024


DiCamillo, Kate. Ferris
March 5, 2024 by Candlewick Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Ferris (born Emma Phineas Wilkey) is spending the summer before 5th grade with her quirky family. Her six-year-old sister, Pinky (nee Eleanor Rose), is determined to be an outlaw, and is traveling around town biting people and trying to rob the local bank. Her Uncle Ted, who has a PhD in philosophy and has been working as a sign painter, has left his hair dresser wife Shirley and is living in the Wilkey's basement painting a history of the world. Grandma Charisse isn't in great health (she's 73, after all), and she and her dog Boomer are seeing a ghost. Along with her friend Billy Jackson, Ferris tries to navigate all of these difficult threads, which also include her favorite teacher, Mrs. Mielk, who has just lost her husband. There seem to be racoons in the house attic, but Charisse thinks these noises might just be caused by the ghost. She claims that the ghost is a previous owner whose husband built the house, which includes an elaborate chandelier that was never lit. Together with the children, she plans to get candles and to light them so that the ghost can be at peace. Ferris, who got her name because she was born underneath a ferris wheel at a local carnival, arranges a dinner party to which she invites everyone important to her, and during which the candles will be lit. When they finally are, a flock of moths descend, and the ghost is seen embracing her husband and floating away. Sadly, there are others in the group who also soon float away, but since "every story is a love story", Ferris comes to terms with her loss with the help of her close-knit community. 

Told in DiCamillo's familiar and lyrical style, there is a lot of repetition and poetic moments, a quirky, large, and unpredicatable cast of characters, and a little supernatural air. The small town feel is reminiscent of the settings of her other books, and this is most likely set in the 1980s, although it is never stated. I base this on these inclusions: Ferris' calm and normal mother is seen pasting S &H green stamps in a book with a sponge, Mrs. Mielk's husband of 34 years fought in World War II, the family has their own encyclopedia, an office is seen using a typewrite and carbon paper, and a grilled cheese sandwich costs fifty cents. I know that a Chick Fil-A sandwich cost $1.69 in 1982, so that's just a ball park setting! 

While the plot is slight, it is the amusing anecdotes that propel the story in this slim volume. Aunt Shirley gives Ferris a disastrous and very curly perm that she eventually shears into a shag. Attempts to reform Pinky start with getting her a library card, which she is almost denied until she can prove that she can read. Alan Buoy declares his love for Charisse. After biting a bank teller, Pinky is taken to the police station and processed, hoping to mend her ways. Ferris has an out of body experience that leads her to Pinky trapped in an old trunk in the attic. There is lots of love and tenderness shown among the characters, which is one of the reasons that DiCamillo has so many fans. 

Readers who have Horvath's Everything on a Waffle, Giff's Jubilee, Urban's Hound Dog True, Week's Pie, or the works of Patricia MacLachan on their shelves will want to race out, purchase this work by this US literary treasure, and add Ferris to their collection. 

I came to the conclusion long ago that lyrical, quirky, heart print books do better with fourth and fifth graders, so I will probably not purchase this one. The cover is not in a style that my students would pick up. This didn't speak to my wizened soul, either, although I will purchase it if there are teachers who fall in love with it and want to recommend it to students. 

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Bunches o' Graphic Novels

It's a good thing that I moved all of the graphic novels into the regular collection last year, because I would NOT have had room for all of the new ones that I'll be ordering. They all still have a graphic novel label on the top of the spine, but the fiction books are interfiled with the fiction, and the nonfiction and biographies mixed in with the text based ones. Some of my students were not happy, but most have found that they get to see a better mix of things to read when they wander in the stacks and don't just go to the graphic section. Here are a bunch o' new ones to consider! 

Hannigan, Kate and Rosen, Josh (illus.) 
History Comics: World War II: Fight on the Home Front
October 31, 2023 by First Second
E ARC provided by Netgalley

I usually say that homefront stories are not what my WWII obsessed readers want, but this was perfect. It's not a story, but rather a LOT of facts about all manner of things that went on stateside during the war. There are some things that young readers might know about, like Rosie the Riveter, but lots of others they might not, like the rationing of shoe leather and rubber (even I didn't know about rubber combs!) or the fact that women who left teaching when they were married were called back in to make up for the shortage of teachers (although I woman I knew who did this indicated that it was to replace male teachers, not teachers who left for other careers). The artwork is colorful and engaging, and there's just so much information! There's plenty of diversity represented, with the challenges faced by Black workers and soldiers, the Japanese internment, and even the Zoot Suit riots that affected the Latine community. Hannigan has some great historical fiction, like The Detective's Assistant and The League of Super Heroes series, so it's not surprising that she had a lot of miscellaneous and fascinating facts lying about! Definitely purchasing!

Gallegos, Maddie. Match Point!
September 19, 2023 by First Second
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Rosie Vo lives with her dad ever since her parents' divorce. Her dad is obsessed with racquetball, and still wears a t shirt from the championship he took part in in 1981, making him a bit old for a middle grad father. He's highly critical of Rosie's skills and is desperate for her to do well, but this backfires, since she hates the sport because of his micromanaging. She has a rival, Erika Garcia, who is deaf, and who bedevils Rosie with taunts. When Rosie is texting Erika back while riding her bike (Don't do this! It's dangerous!), she crashes and is helped by Hayden Blair, who likes to be called Blair. Blair is obsessed with raquetball and loves to play. She's just moved from Maryland with her older brother and very supportive parents, and the two become friends. Rosie has a plan to enter a raquetball tournament but have Blair play in her place so she can have a medal with her name on it, but as the girls spend more time hanging out, Rosie feels a little better about her skills. Will she finally make peace with the sport? This was a fun book, and I loved Blair's dumpster diving family. I wish the author had written about her experiences with soccer or skateboarding, though; in 25 years of teaching, I've never heard of a student playing racquetball. Not that this will make any graphic novel a hard sell, but if I had a SKATEBOARDING graphic novel, that would be GOLD. 

Yogis, Jaimal and Truong, Vivian (illus.) Rise of the Shadowfire (#2)
October 17, 2023 by Graphix
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Grace has further adventures after The Awakening Storm, and finds a way to get to Paris. I've been looking for more fantasy graphic novels for my students, since there aren't quite as many of them as there are traditional novels. Since this involves the ever popular dragons, I'll definitely order this, even though it was hard for me to get through. (Neither the topic nor the format are my personal favorites.) I've been buying my prebinds from PermaBound rather than Follett, since the Follett quality has dropped considerably, so I don't have a copy of the first book yet.  

Shusterman, Neal and Martínez, Andrés Vera (Illustrator)
Courage to Dream: Tales of Hope in the Holocaust 
October 31, 2023 by Graphix
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

This was quite an interesting look at the Holocaust, bringing in Shusterman's unique fantasy style, but I may not buy it. The 8th graders haven't been doing their unit on the Holocaust lately, and the books set during this time period that veer in to fantasy have often confused my students. I'll make sure the public library orders it in case I have students who are looking for a graphic novel about the Holocaust that also includes fantasy elements. 

From the publisher:

Courage to Dream plunges readers into the darkest time of human history—the Holocaust. This graphic novel explores one of the greatest atrocities in modern memory, delving into the core of what it means to face the extinction of everything and everyone you hold dear.

This gripping, multifaceted tapestry is woven from Jewish folklore and cultural history. Five interlocking narratives explore one common story – the tradition of resistance and uplift. Internationally renowned author Neal Shusterman and illustrator Andrés Vera Martínez have created a masterwork that encourages the compassionate, bold reaching for a dream.

Friday, February 23, 2024

Swimming Into Trouble (Julia on the Go #1)

Ahn, Angela. Swimming Into Trouble (Julia on the Go #1)
February 13, 2024 by Tundra Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Nine-year-old Julia LOVES swimming. Her immigrant parents run Sushi-To-Go in the local community center, and sign her up for swimming lessons so she doesn't have to stay with the at the restaurant all the time, and she seems to have quite the talent for it. She's competitive, and glad that even though she is a year younger, she can still beat swimmers like Olivia. When she experiences some pain in her ear when she is doing some deeper dives, she isn't too worried, but when it continues, she lets her coach know, and she says that have to tell Julia's parents. The doctor at the walk in clinic diagnosis an ear infection. While she doesn't feel it is swimmer's ear, she prescribes an antibiotic and tells Julia she must stay out of the water for ten days. Knowing that Julia isn't the best at following instructions, her parents tell Julia she will no even be going to the pool for that time. Even though she tries to explain to the adults in her life that going for ten days without swimming is like them going for ten days without coffee, or tofu, or K-dramas, her parents are firm. Julia tries to research ways to keep the water out of her ears, especially since Olivia taunts her about not being able to make a big race, since she won't be able to participate in the qualifying time trials. This ends with Julia super gluing a plastic container to her ear, and the community center community stopping by her parents restaurant to help get it off. Julia learns her lesson, and I'm curious to see what other adventures she will find in her Vancouver community. 
Strengths: When I was seven, I spent the entire summer being confined inside due to a severe ear infection. No swimming, just sitting on the couch reading. I don't know what the thought behind THAT was, but it was not enjoyable. Ear infections are a childhood problem I have not seen described very well, so it was good to see that representation. The community center was absolutely fascinating, and is based off the Hillcrest Community Center in Vancouver, BC. Wow! A library, a pool, an ice rink, sushi-- what doesn't it have? It was fun to see Julia have some freedom to explore, and her relationship with the librarian was great to see. Julia's love of swimming is also intriguing, and her angst at being denied her favorite pastime was handled perfectly. For purely selfish reasons, I'd love to see Ahn (Who also wrote Krista Kim-Bap) write a series with an 8th or 9th grade character!
Weaknesses: Since I deal with slightly older children who have a little more self control, it was hard to read about the bad choices that Julia was making. I would have loved to see more of her home life and her parents, because they seemed very interesting, but I'm sure that young readers will enjoy this just the way it is. 
What I really think: While I liked this one a lot, it is a bit young for my students. I would definitely buy this for an elementary school, where it would be popular with the fans of modern day Ramona Quimby equivalents like Sheth's Nina Soni, McDonald's Judy Moody, Barrow's and Blackall's Ivy and Bean, Florence's Jasmine Toguchi, and other series with energetic young girls who pay homage to the B is for Betsy vibe. 
Ms. Yingling

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Leon Levels Up

Coccia, Paul. Leon Levels Up
February 13, 2024 by Orca Book Publishers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Leon loves to play video games, especially since they take his mind off a lot of other things. He's a stocky kid who wears oversized hand-me-downs and generally has a poor self image, which further isolates him from his peers. When Nico Saito approaches him one day to complement him on his gaming acchievements in Slumber Party Fortress, Leon is thrilled. Nico's dad Ren owns PixGrid, a prominent game company, and Nico is everything that Leon is not; cool, fashionable, and popular. When Nico invites him to his house to play a new game his father is developing, Leon panics and even gets his mother to buy him some new clothes. The game is to be played at the PixGrid facility, although Nico hasn't exactly cleared it with his father. Gabs, one of the game developers, shows the boys the new, completely immersive Virtual Reality set up. They gear up, and prepare to jump into pools of nanobots, but Nico rushes and damages his helmet. This causes massive glitches in the game, and Gabs can't even communicate with him. If the game continues too long, the nanobots will try to infiltrate Nico's helmet, eventually suffocating him. The only way out is for Leon to win the game so that it ends. Will his gaming skills be enough to save his new friend?
Strengths: Today's children certainly spend a lot of time playing video games, and judging by the wild popularity of the Minecraft books in my library, reading about playing video games is the next best thing. Orca Currents books are a nice, small size (112 pages, but 5 x 0.25 x 7.5 inches compared to the 5.75 x 1 x 8.5 inches that a regular hardcover measures), move along quickly, and yet have all of the necessary components that make them suitable for language arts projects in a way that Wimpy Kid books are not (e.g. they actually have a plot and some character development). Leon is a very typical middle school student who wants to impress the cool Nico, there's good video game action, and Leon does save the day. I would categorize this as fantasy due to the nanobots.
Weaknesses: I don't play any kinds of video games, so I was a little unsure why Gabs couldn't just pull Nico out of the pool of nanobots and stop the game. There have been similar books where there were neural melds that precluded this sort of action, and maybe the short length just didn't lend itself to more convoluted explanations. The target demographic is not going to care; they are just going to imagine themselves in the story, saving the cool kid from certain death with their fantastic gaming skills. The way Leon's weight was treated didn't seem on trend with the current push for body positivity.
What I really think: I'll probably buy a copy of this, because some of my reluctant readers who will admire the fact that Leon plays games on his computer at lunch because he thinks teachers assume he's doing homework rather than gaming will find this less painful than other books. The reading level on this is listed as 2.3, whereas most books for middle school come in between 4 and 5.5. While I have no patience for people who demand that students read "on grade level" (very few adult books have a listed reading level of 6-8), it is very helpful to have books at a lower level for students who are struggling. I will purchase a copy, but I didn't find it as personally amusing as Schrieber's Game Over, Pete Watson (2014). Wow. Almost ten years old. Sigh. 
 Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Just a Hat

Khubiar, S. Just a Hat
July 18, 2023 by Blackstone Publishing
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Joseph was born in California, but is now getting ready to enter the 8th grade in Texas in 1978. His parents fled Iran when things became difficult; his cousin Shahla's parents were both killed in a car bombing. Joseph is good friends with neighbors Mateo and Roberto Ybarra, but often comes under attack by neighborhood bullies because he wears a kippah in accordance with his Jewish culture. He has a very close relationship with Miss Eleanor (or LaLa), a grandmotherly older lady who gives piano lessons. He gets groceries for her, helps around the house, and keeps her company, and in exchange, she gives him piano lessons. When he finally retaliates against the hoodlums who are bedeviling him by punching one of them at the store, the police are called. He isn't in trouble with the law, but his father punishes him for his act of violence by beating him, in true 1970s parental fashion. When approached by the football coach to play, Joseph seizes the opportunity, and is soon a talented player. He has a tentative relationship with a girl he thinks is cute, Vonda, but the two recognize that their relationship has no future because of the differences in their religions (she's Baptist) and the objections of their parents. Joseph has his Bar Mitzvah, his father takes flying lessons, and life goes on, but when the Shah of Iran comes to the US for cancer treatments, his mother is upset. Things get worse when the Iranian Hostage Crisis takes place and people in the small Texas town start to turn against the family. When the police question Joseph about a local drug distribution problem, will his knowledge get him in trouble, or put his family in a better position? 

I haven't seen anything about the plight of Iranian Americans in the US during this horrible time in the 1970s, with the exception of Dumas' It Ain't So Awful, Falafel, and since Joseph's family was also Jewish, this was quite interesting. The father talks frequently about sending Joseph and his mother to live in Israel for safety. The Jewish diaspora was wide spread, and I forget about that until books like this or Behar's Letters from Cuba remind me. 

Joseph's experiences are framed in a standard school year, and his relationships with family and friends, his testing of romantic waters, his football and basketball careers, and his experiences with bullied and racism are all framed on that timeline. The chapters have the names of hats, and the format is more anecdotal. The lyrical and introspective quality of the prose made this seem more like a books for adults looking back with nostalgia at past days. The content is middle grade appropriate, although there are several instances where racial and gender slurs common in the 1970s by now forbidden are used. 

Readers who want a deeper look into one middle grade characters life experiences that are informed by his Jewish culture and faith will find this an interesting read to pair with Freedman's My Basmati Bat Mitzvah, Garcia's I Wanna Be Your Shoebox, Nockowitz' The Prince of Steel Pier, and ben Izzy's Dreidel's on the Brain

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

The Princess Protection Program

London, Alex. The Princess Protection Program
February 13, 2024 by Greenwillow Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Rosamund wakes up to find a strange prince trying to kiss her, but manages to push him away and hide in a bathroom. The next thing she knows, she is outside the Orphan's Home Educational Academy. From fellow students Sirena and Rana, she learns that she and all of the others in the HEA are princesses (and one prince, Charlie) who escaped from their fairy tales and are now trying to figure out "reality" with the help of Verna, who set up the school. Students take classes in using cell phones, dressing themselves without ball gowns, and other modern topics from professors who are named with shout outs to other middle grade authors (Chainani, Calonita, Gidwitz). There is a threat from Uponatimes, monsters that can make the princesses disappear, and they encounter one when they take an illicit trip to a pizza parlor near the Enchanted Woods Amusement Park. Sirena is attacked, and the girls are in trouble for going off campus. While the purpose of the school seems to be to ready the princesses for entry into the world, the days have an alarming repetitive quality, and Rosamund wonders if the cleaning they have to do is somehow tied into this Groundhog's Day feel. When secrets start to emerge (as well as "chaotic teenaged greaseballs", aka unicorns!), will Rosamund and her new friends be able to figure out how to create their own Doors of Opportunity and be the authors of their own stories?
Strengths: This was a fun twist on traditional Brothers Grimm meet Disney fairy tales, and was an interesting look at how sometimes young people are not able to control the way their lives unfold. Rosamund's reaction to the sweaty prince trying to kiss her is a direct antithesis to the princess in Flinn's A Kiss in Time (2009), where Sleeping Beauty is woken up by a modern tourist and follows him back to Florida! There's just enough amazement at the modern world mixed with teenagers trying to strike out on their own. The pizza parlor and its important part in the story was probably my favorite, and I should have paid closer attention to the names! It's strongly hinted that Charlie (Prince Charming) escaped the Cinderella story because he is gay, but this is never said directly. This is a fun romp, and a bit of a departure from London's usual action packed books like Pentagon Escape, Battle Dragons, and Dog Tags or his zany Accidental Adventures
Weaknesses: This was packed with allegory, so I felt like I was missing a lot because I didn't stop to unpack everything that made me think "Wait a minute...". This could be enjoyed without the underlying messages, which is good, because middle grade readers might not quite get everything.
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who liked Anne Ursu's The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy (2021) or The Lost Girl (2019) or The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom (2012) by Christopher Healy. 

Monday, February 19, 2024

MMGM-- Finding Normal

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Faris Stephanie. Finding Normal
February 20, 2024 by Aladdin
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Things are going along normally in Temple's world; she is worried about being excluded from an important birthday party being held by a popular girl, and she's tired of having to babysit her much younger sister, Kennedy. After her mother wakes her up and tells her to get dressed at 2:00 a.m., however, there are problems to deal with. A local dam has caused a large area of town to flood, and Temple's home is one of the ones affected. The house is still standing, but to avoid mold, everything will have to be ripped out up to the waterline. The family has evacuated first to the public middle school, then to a hotel, and then get an offer to live with neighbors, the Fletchers, who are able to live in the upstairs of their two story home while it is being fixed. Temple isnt thrilled, since their son, Jesse, is her age, and has always struck her as kind of obnoxious. Worried about money, Temple's parents pull her out of her private school, and she has to attend public school with Jesse. He's nice about it, but she runs into two mean girls who give her a hard time. Still reeling from comments her own friends have made, and their treatment of her when they learned her house was flooded, Temple doubts that she will be able to make any friends at her new school. A friend of Jesse's from coding camp, Asha, is nice to her. When concerns arise that Temple's family might lose their home, and Temple sees that this may happen to others as well, she has a plan to stage a fundraiser for flood survivors. She contacts the local news, and even manages to score a popular rock group, The Satellite Boys, to perform at it. Jesse and Asha help with the website, and they get some donations. This is an enormous undertaking, and Temple's parents decide that it's too much, since her homework is suffering. As the date appears, things aren't going well; Temple hasn't booked the venue, there are a lot of logistics that haven't been worked out, and she hasn't made a plan for how the donations will be allotted. Will Temple be able to put her life back together the way that the builders can restore her home?
Strengths: There are so many horrible things going on in the world, and when I was twelve, my concern would have been "What if this happens to ME?" I probably would have had a go bag packed and waiting by the front door. Even if young readers don't consume much news, they have heard of the floods, fires, and wars raging around the world. Temple seems a bit self-centered to the adult perspective, but Faris captures the tween angst perfectly. Yes, the whole house is ruined, but can't I still go to the birthday party? Switching schools was realistic, and I imagine that a lot of families double up to save on hotel bills. There are moments of normality that occur even in the most devastating circumstances, and Faris writes from experience; she mentions in an afterword that her own home was badly damaged in a flood several years ago. This is an excellent balance between school and friend drama and the trauma of living through a flooding situation. This author's other titles, Popularity Code  and Best Night Ever (2017), 25 Roses (2015), and 30 Days of No Gossip (2014) are very popular in my library, so I'm definitely purchasing. 
Weaknesses: It seemed unlikely to me that Temple could have gotten a popular boy band to perforn and yet not have booked a venue (wouldn't their manager have had questions?), but young readers will take this in stride. 
What I really think: Aside from Feldman's 2023 The Puttermans Are in the House (flood) and Bishop's 2017 14 Hollow Road (tornado), as well as Tashjian's My Life as a Meme (#8)(fire) there aren't a lot of books that address the aftermath of a natural disaster. In the same way that children like to read books about children who are abused or in horrible circumstances because it makes their own lives feel better, I think that my students will find Temple's story interesting, and make the fact that they aren't doing well in social studies seem less horrible!  

Sunday, February 18, 2024

The Song of the Swan

Sutton, Karah and Hannuniemi, Pauliina (illus.) The Song of the Swan 
October 24, 2023 by Knopf Books for Young Readers 
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Olga and Pavel work for Mr. Bulgakov who is a swindler that sells jewelry that Olga makes and enchants with her heartstring magic. In a beginning chapter, we are told that this magic started because a young man who was getting ready to go out into the world didn't want to leave home, and consulted the Spider Queen. She made it so that he would remain tethered to his home with heartstrings, but this magic eventually spread to everyone in the valley. Olga is an especially talented practioneer of this magic, but it's not enough to earn money to keep the three of them fed. Olga manages to steal some food, and to arrange a trade of meat pies by enchanting children in a nearby stall. When they have had to flee yet another town because they are being chased by the local magistrate, Olga decides to set off on her own to find the Scarlet Heart, a magical stone rumored to be hidden in the Sokolov Palace, and to be the source of great wealth. Pavel joins her, and the two set out. Olga is badly injured, and when she comes to, finds that she is being attended by none other than Baron Sokolov himself. Pavel is enjoying himself at the palace's nightly ball, but Olga is so weakened that she must rest. After a good breakfast, she is determined to investigate the palace thoroughly, find the stone, and steal it. Pavel isn't as sure, especially when he falls in love with one of the young women at the ball, Anna. Olga is especially intrigued by the aviary, and it is there that she uncovers one of Sokolov's secrets; the people who attend the balls all night long spend the day as swans! Sokolov has engineered all of this magic in order to try to find his beloved wife, who disappeared along with his unborn child. The magic is taking a toll on him, however, and he needs to replenish his magic. Will Olga be able to find out the secrets to the past as well as a way to support herself in the future?

I was unfamiliar with the plot of the ballet Swan Lake, but this is a reimagining of some of the plot lines. The most apparent was when Olga disguises herself as Anna in an attempt to get Pavel to focus on her mission to get the Scarlet Heart instead of on his love. This is a fine story on its own, but I'm sure I would have enjoyed it even more if I could see the parallels between the two. 

Olga's story is interwoven with narrative from a spider, who gives information about the heartstring magic, and how it effected some people who tried to use it. Of course, these stories end up being directed related to Olga and Pavel, but there's a nice air of mystery involved in spider spinning the tales! 

Readers who can't get enough of fairy tale related books like Baker's The Wide-Awake Princess, Colfer's The Land of Stories, Durst's Into the Wild, and Diane Zahler's fairy tale retellings such as Sleeping Beauty's Daughters or The Thirteenth Princess will enjoy this version of Swan Lake related characters. 

I'll probably send this on to another school. I just don't have readers for this kind of fantasy, and it would just gather dust on my shelves. 

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Worst Week Ever! Monday

Amores, Eva and Cosgrove, Matt. Worst Week Ever! Monday
January 5, 2023 by Simon & Schuster Ltd.
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Justin Chase is having a very busy morning. His mother has just gotten married (to a man Justin suspects is a vampire!), and the next morning at 5:00 a.m., she is waking him up to go live with his father. Since she's a nurse and has to work nights, and his father has just bought a big house where he lives with Justin's Nan, it seems like a good idea. It does mean starting a new school, and when Justin gets to his dad's house and starts getting ready, the disasters start to pile up. His father has decorated the room with his favorite television character... when he was five! His school uniform is also very small, and since he lacks a bathing suit for swim class, his Nan crochets him one. His father, who is a plumber, insists on driving him to school in his truck, which looks like a giant toilet. He meets helpful and friendly neighbor Mia, but also the stuck up and snarky Marvin King, who is assigned to guide him around. Justin shares a name with a popular film star, and since his father has put name tags on all his clothes, this causes him some consternation, but the worst part of the day is the extreme intestinal distress that a breakfast of green smoothie and wedding cake frosting have inflicted upon him. He has quite a bout in the bathroom, only to find there is no toilet paper. He substitutes his crocheted socks. When swim class approaches, he hopes to redeem himself, but gets stuck on the high dive, has his swim suit start to unravel, AND has a horrible Code Brown in the pool. Things just go from bad to worse, and this is only the FIRST day of his week. More adventures promise to come. 
Strengths: This is a pell mell adventure in every day life. I loved that Justin got dropped off an dhad to go right to school. His Nan and dad are nicely quirky without being over the top (well, okay, maybe the toilet truck is), and even though Justin has a horrible day, he stays in decent spirits. While there are uniforms, and Nan drinks a lot of tea, it's not overly British, not that I mind multiple mentions of biscuits at all. The illustrations are quite nice, and the text is fairly minimal. It will be easy to sell this to childre intent on rereading Wimpy Kid for the hundreth time. I am interested to see the direction that subsequent books take, and look forward especially to seeing how the relationships with  Mia and Marvin play out. 
Weaknesses: Too many poop and fart jokes. Way, way too many. Not nuanced at all. And yes, it is possible to have nuanced fart jokes. This was a bit much for adult sensibilities, but tweens have a different threshhold. 
What I really think: Like Pichon's Tom Gates, Clover's Rory Branagan, and Berger's The Pudding Problem, this is a quirky, British version of Wimpy Kid that I like a WHOLE lot more. (Come on. Greg Hefley is NOT nice.) If this series becomes available in a prebind, I will definitely purchase it. Tom Gates has been super popular in my library; I wish all of the UK titles were available in the US. 

Friday, February 16, 2024

Poetry Friday- Black Girl You Are Atlas

Watson, Renee and Holmes, Ekua (illus.)Black Girl You Are Atlas
January 1, 2024 by Kokila
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this collection of free verse and short form poems, Watson takes a look at her own tween and teen years and encourages readers of the same age to embrace their truths and stand up to societal challenges. Starting with an elaborate version of the traditional "I'm From" poem, we see how Watson's Jamaican culture and Pacific Northwest residence, along with many other factors, shaped her outlook on life. She discusses family members and how they influenced her, but give us a healthy dose of small, daily memories like hand-clapping games and struggles with hair care. Some of the poems are more prose-like and explanatory, and some are gem-like haikus and tankas. World events, like the Rodney King beating, are shown against the backdrop of Watson's own experiences, putting them into an interesting perspective. Many of the poems highlight very specific ages or birthdays, and outline some of the challenges Watson faced. It's interesting to see these from a single perspective, knowing that they are still something that many young girls still experience. There's even a helpful and prescriptive "How To Survive Your Teen Years" poem. The end of the book is filled with poems paying tribute to some of the women in recent years who were killed in horrible and racist incidents, like Breonna Taylor or Renisha McBride. The verse is accompanied by Holmes' beautiful and colorful paper collage artwork. 

This is a good choice for readers who liked the history in Grimes' Legacy, the girl power themes in Naomi Shihab Nye's  Amaze Me, or the mix of art and poetry in Reynolds and Griffin's Ain't Burned All the Bright.
Ms. Yingling

Happy 18th Blogiversary

My blog is now legally an adult. 

If you're a long time reader, you know that I read as much of the middle grade realistic fiction, speculative fiction and nonfiction as I can, through digital ARC providers like Edelweiss Plus and Netgalley, before I buy them. 

I hope that it helps to have a concise review with my very carefully worded opinions about the books; I try to make the "weaknesses" as constructive as possible. While the books I adore often hit on a personal level, I am always conscious of how my students will like books. There are a lot of sports, horror, and humor fans in my population, so I read a lot of those. 

I'm happy to have reached this milestone but a little sad that blogging is rather a thing of the past, and that my reviews have a limited audience. Maybe I just need some cake.

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Confessions of a Candy Snatcher

Sinclair, Phoebe. Confessions of a Candy Snatcher.
August 15, 2023 by Candlewick Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Jonas is in middle school on the Jersey Shore, and has a solid group of friends, including Mikey, Aaron, Darius, and Concepción, with whom he sometimes has difficulties. At home, he has to deal with two households; his mother's small house, and his dad's condo. He goes between the two of them with his seven year old sister, Rex. Last year, at Halloween, Jonas and his friends engaged in their yearly tradition of snatching candy from younger children. His thoughts are that no one ever got hurt, but last year things went sideways in a way he didn't expect. Now, someone is leaving him notes at school that say things like "I know it was you," and "Watch your back". Jonas already feels a lot of guilt, and when Concepción (whom he calls C.) asks him to write an article for her zine on "the worst thing you ever did", guilt begins to eat at him even more. He has a typewriter given to him by Stew, who used to babysit him and Rex, and who now is manager of the Soho Stationery shop and has a boyfriend who is a pro skater. Jonas starts writing poems about his worst experiences, and between chapters we seem some of the zine pages he creates, along with illustrations. As his guilt becomes more and more overwhelming, will he find a way to process them and make things right?

The only other middle grade book I've ever seen that included information about zines was Perez's 2017 The First Rule of Punk. While they had their heyday in the 1980s and 90s (before the wide spread use of the internet), zines are apparently seeing a resurgence among young people, not that the internet isn't as novel. I've yet to see any emerge from my school, but will say that Jonas if lucky that Stew gave him a typewriter. I saw one marked at $60 at my local thrift store, and it wasn't even as pink and cool as Jonas' sounded! 

The real appeal of this book is the format; not only are there illustrations by the talented Theodore Taylor III in between chapters, decorating zine articles, but there are no quotation marks. Instead, all of the text is left justified, but there is more white space between each separation. This is rather unique, and will appeal to readers who want a book that looks longer than it actually is. 

There are a few negative comments centered on Stew and his lifestyle, but they are made by one of the bullies, who is not seen as a positive character. 

Readers who are looking for a Halloween story won't find a lot of holiday details here, but those who want a story about guilt and its raminfications like the conduct-of-life themes in Stead's The List of Things That Will Not Change,  Culley's The Natural Genius of Ants, or Lockington's In the Key of Us will appreciate Jonas' journey.

I'm not sure that this is a book that my students are going to enjoy, so may pass it on to another school. If this had centered more on Halloween, it would definitely have been popular. There just aren't any books about the preparations and celebration of Halloween and trick or treating, other than Charlie Bumpers and the Squeaking Skull, or a few series that might have an installment about the holiday. (Like Sheth's Nina Soni: Halloween Queen (Nina Soni #4) or Brown's Lola Levine and the Halloween Scream (#6))

Ms. Yingling