Sunday, March 31, 2024

Mini Reading Marathon

How my process works. It's December 17th, and I'm trying to finish all of the March 2024 titles. I have an entry for every day in March, and 18 more books to read! It's gray and rainy, so I'm spending the day batting clean up. I wish I could buy all of the books, but funds and space are limited, so I need to purchase only what I think I can convince my students to read. My collection has a lot more funny books, sports novels and horror books than many, because I can't keep those on the shelves. There are some readers for historical fiction and fantasy, so I buy that genre if the books have something unique or interesting. It's very difficult for me to place sad books dealing with processing grief or anxiety (unless they are about children being abused; even my daughter enjoyed these!), quirky books with silly names (think Pinkwater), and novels in verse. I thought last year there was a growing interest in these, but I haven't seen it at all this year. 

I do read books quickly, and try to write reviews for about 80% of them, but I purchase only about 30% of what I read. I don't need to read books and remember every detail; I need to read EVERYTHING so I know what's out there and what to buy. Here's what I read during my mini marathon. 

Burg, Ann E. Force of Nature: A Novel of Rachel Carson
March 5, 2024 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this wonderful novel in verse, we get a fictionalized account of the environmentalist and writer's whole life. There are lots of details about how she loved nature and writing, and a good overview of how she interacted with her family, including the death of her sister at a young age, which resulted in Carson having to help raise her nieces. I loved that she didn't think her sister should change her name when she got married! Carson is a fascinating historical figure; my daughter researched her for a wax museum in middle school, and I still have a can of air freshener somewhere with a paper lable that says "DDT" on it. I have several other books on Carson that don't circulate, so will probably pass on purchase. But how great is that cover?

March 12, 2024 by Aladdin
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Abby, who has struggled in the past with anxiety over the fact that her mother left, the remarriage of her father, and her new stepsister is at her school, is now dealing with Selly's reaction to a secret Abby revealed, as well as feeling distant from friends Vivi and Thea. She also can't seem to act appropriately around her crush, Mila, and even claims to be taking another girl to an event when Mila clearly wants to go with her. Add to this the pressure of trying to get into a winter clinic at the Canterwood Crest school taught by her idols, and it's no wonder Abby is finding it hard to concentrat on her riding. While I bought the first two books in this series, my horse book fans find them a bit too full of drama; they want more horse details. Debating purchase. If mean girls with horses go over well with your readers, this is an excellent series. 

Scrivan, Maria. All Is Nat Lost (Nat Enough #5)
March 5, 2024 by Graphix
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Nat is worried that her mother won't let her go to Philadelphia with her class, since she won't even let Nat bike around by herself very much. Of course, Nat leaves her bike outside and it gets stolen, so the other reason that she wants to go on the trip is that there is a bike for a prize for the scavenger hunt on the trip. Her parents agree, and she goes off with her classmates. They see a lot of sites, but Nat loses her phone in a park. She and Flo take off to look for the phone (and also Argyle, Flo's sock puppet) but don't have much luck. They can't find their class, but try to find things on the scavenger hunt by themselves. They manage to find their group right before the bus takes off, and manage to locate Nat's phone in the lost and found. Nat wins a yo yo in the drawing, but her friend wins the bike and gives it to Nat instead. 

I always have doubts about books that portray field trips where children run off (think Babymouse: School-Tripped) because whenever I go on the Washington, D.C. trip with students we are SO careful to account for everyone, but this is at least an interesting look at Philadelphia. Nat isn't my favorite, but my students love the books. 

Lee, Lyla. Gigi Shin is Not a Nerd
March 5, 2024 by Aladdin
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Gigi loves art and would love to go to somewhere like RISD or Tisch for college, but first she has to get through middle school. When she finds out about a summer art school, Starscape, she hopes that her parents will let her apply. It's expensive, and they work hard running a Korean grocery store, so would rather see her go into a different field. Gigi and her friends decide that they will try to raise money for the school by tutoring other students. Gigi keeps this secret from her parents, but they know about it anyway. They are concerned when she isn't doing well on her own school work because of the time she spends tutoring. When she gets into the summer program, she finally shows her parents her artwork. They feel she is very talented, and support her more than she expected. This was a fun, quick book, and would be a good choice for middle grade students who want to pursue art as a career. I wish, however, that there were more books with students who want to pursue math, science, or health careers. (Remember, I'm a bitter ex-Latin teacher who couldn't get a job in the field, so I'm all about useful, realistic career expectations.)

Brennan, Maggie. Kira and the (Maybe)Space Princess
March 5, 2024 by Random House Graphic
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Kira is hoping that junior high will be better, and that she will be popular, but classmate Tulip has gotten a familiar, and is now the cool, magical girl at school. This makes Kira insanely angry, but when a Catacorn crashes in her yard, Kira thinks that having this creature around might help her to be cool as well. I liked the message from the author about middle school being hard for everyone, but Kira has a Misako Rocks level of angst and anger that made this not to my personal liking. Middle grade readers who wear cat ear headbands and think life would be better if they just had their own unicorn will love this one. I'm just too old. 

Fong, Debbie. Next Stop 
March 19, 2024 by Random House Graphic
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Pia Xing's family has struggled since the drowning death of her younger brother while Pia was supposed to be watching him. Pia's mother is not dealing well, the family has moved, and on top of everything else, the father has broken his leg. He's arranged for a summer bus trip for him and Pia, but with his injury, he arranges for her to go on her own. There are many other people on the trip, including Sam, the operator's daughter, and the sites the group visits are fun. (A chicken shaped hotel, world's smallest corn maze, etc.) Pia hopes that when they get to Cessarine Lake, she will be able to make a wish to bring her brother back, especially after her mother is hospitalized for trying to hurt herself. Will the lake grant her wish, or will the family have to find some other way to recover from their grief?

I liked the illustration style, but parents who are struggling with grief so much that they don't properly parent children who are still alive is my least favorite type of middle grade story. It always feels unrealistic and insulting. Everyone else will probably like this one a lot. 

Baron, Chris, ed. On All Other Nights: A Passover Celebration in 14 Stories
March 26, 2024 by Amulet Books
E ARC Provided by Edelweiss Plus

Good book to have if Ali and Saeed's Once Upon an Eid: Stories of Hope and Joy by 15 Muslim Voices or Rosen's Coming of Age: 13 B'Nai Mitzvah Stories circulate well. 

Schmidt, Gary D., Ed. A Little Bit Super: With Small Powers Come Big Problems
April 23, 2024 by Clarion Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Goofy and quirky fantasy short stories about having odd powers. 

Saturday, March 30, 2024

Saturday Morning Cartoons- Odin, Whatever After and Table Titans Club

O'Connor, George. Asgardians: Odin
March 26, 2024 by First Second
Copy provided by the publisher

In O'Connor's inimitable style, he turns his pen to Norse mythology after a successful twelve book Olympians series. This larger format graphic novel retells a selection of myths relating to Odin, the one-eyed war god. There's a nice list of characters at the end, as well as "Norse Code" notes that explain details about the illustrations or myths that don't necessarily fit in with the panels. This has a classic comic book feel to it, and will be popular with readers who enjoyed Napoli and Balit's Treasury of Norse Mythology, VanEekhout's Fenris and Mott, Richard's Secrets of Valhalla, Subity's The Last Shadow Warrior, or my favorite, Armstrong's 2013 Loki's Wolves series.

Mlynowski, Sarah and Chouhan, Anu (illus.)
Fairest of All: The Graphic Novel (Whatever After #1)
April 2, 2024 by Graphix
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this graphic novel adaptation of the first book in the long running Whatever After series (which started in 2012), we meet Abby, who has just moved from Chicago to Smithville with her lawyer parents and younger brother, Jonah. When Jonah wakes Abby up in the middle of the night, claiming that a mirror in the basement is hissing at him. Not wanting to wake her parents, Abby goes with him to find out that the mirror actually IS hissing if they knock on it twice. When Jonah knocks on it three times, the mirror sucks the children in, and the land in a fantasy world. They see a woman knocking on a door, trying to sell apples. Since Jonah is always hungry, he wants the apple, but the children find out that it is the evil queen who is trying to get to Snow White! Abby quickly realizes that since she is in the story and has saved Snow White from being poisoned, she won't be found by the prince. She decides to make things right, which involves, at different points, sitting with Snow at the top of a hill waiting for the prince, breaking into the castle, and eventually saving Snow White AND introducing her to the prince. Since this is a modern tale, Snow is leery of marrying the prince right away, and they decide to slow things down and just go to dinner first. The mirror sends Abby and Jonah back home, where they are very glad to see their parents but curious about how Gabrielle and MaryRose are stuck in the mirror. As we know, there are many more adventures for the siblings as this series continues. 
Strengths: This graphic novel is nicely illustrated in a colorful style in keeping with the Helen Huang covers of the originals. As far as I can remember, this stays close to the original, but adds a little diversity in the depiction of the dwarves which may or may not be in the other version. Jonah's little brother quirks, like eating cheese puffs dipped in ketchup, are preserved, and we get a glimpse of Abby's difficulties with her new home that are more developed in later volumes. Snow White has a nice balance of the traditional princess tropes and more modern, feministic characteristics. The evil queen doesn't really have any redeeming qualities, but she does have a great castle. This will fly off the shelves. 
Weaknesses: I've always been a little confused about the genesis of the mirror, but so is Abby. This bothers me in the way that Osborne's Magic Tree House series bothers me; can we just have a volume explaining how the time traveling is occurring? Young readers won't be so picky. 
What I really think: The publishers won't like this, but I will probably only buy the first volume of what I imagine will be a graphic novel series. Why? I've already bought fifteen of the regular books, which take up a whole shelf. Some of my sixth grade girls love them, but the books struggle to find other readers. A graphic novel might entice readers to pick up other titles, but since the story is the same, buying all of the graphic novels feels like duplicating a series that doesn't get that much use. There's only so much space in my library and money to spend. I imagine elementary schools or public libraries will buy all of the books. 

Kurtz, Scott.Table Titans Club
March 5, 2024 by Holiday House
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Valeria has to move for her mother's job AGAIN, but she also has the opportunity to mend her ways and not fight in school. It's a rocky first day, with Val growling at mean girl Kate and jumping on a desk, as well as Val getting sent into the hall for farting, but there is an upside; Andrew notices how bad her day is and asks her to join his Dungeons and Dragons gaming club at school. Alan isn't thrilled with this, but Darius is okay. Interestingly, Kate goes unheard when she mumbles that she would like to play as well. The group has an advisor, Mr. Khoo, whose wife is expecting, so he needs the group to find another sponsor. The only available on is Coach Bittne, who challenges the group to work with the wrestling team he coaches. The boys suit up, but are unable to pin their opponent. Desperate for the club to work, Val gives it a try and manages to do quite well. The club goes well, and Val enjoys her time playing a druid, and is fascinated by the Guardian Gaming store where they get books and dice donated to the team. When Kate and Val have a tiff in the hallway, Coach Bittner has them clean the locker room as a punishment, and the girls manage to work out some of their issues. Val does so well with wrestling that she is made a competing member of the team. Eventually, Kate is asked to join the gaming club, and Val ends the story by showing the group a flyer for a gaming camp, Camp Owlcare. Things are certainly looking up. 
Strengths: Friend drama is always a huge seller, and I thought that this was a much more interesting story than the more usual graphic novel memoir. Sure, Val has her problems, but the whole book doesn't constantly rehash them. She finds a good group of friends, explores new activities, and most of all, has realistic interactions with her mother. This is a topic not explored enough in middle grade literature! This year, my school wrestling team has three girls on it, and I love that the coach doesn't even blink when Val offers to try wrestling. Perfect. The relationship between Val and Kate was especially well done, and I enjoyed that they were able to become friends. A lot to recommend this, AND fantastic details about playing Dungeons and Dragons. 
Weaknesses: It's the noses in graphic novels usually bug me, but this time it was Val's hair in her face. Grab me a cartoon barrette! While her anger management problem added an interesting layer to the story, there could have been more of an explanation for it. That's one of the reason that graphic novels are not MY preferred genre, but my students will not have this objection. 
What I really think: There are a growing number of D&D books (including Durfey-Lavoie Just Roll with It.) and while I don't have a huge number of kids who play each year, there are always a few, so I consider these a long term investment. As with horse books, it's good to buy a few each year for those die hard readers who are really interested. 
 Ms. Yingling

Friday, March 29, 2024

The First State of Being, The Chill 2000s

Kelly, Erin Entrada. The First State of Being
Greenwillow Books, 5 March 2024
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Michael Rosario lives in the Fox Ridge apartments in Delaware in August of 1999. It's his birthday, but he's worried about Y2K approaching. He has good reasons; his mother lost her job when she stayed home to take care of him when he was ill, and she now works three jobs. Sometimes the apartment handyman, Mr. Mosely, keeps him company, and sometimes older neighbor girl Gibby "babysits" him, but he has plenty of time to go by himself to the grocery store and shoplift cans of peaches to add to his Y2K preparedness stash. He's afraid of the local boys who play basketball at the complex nearby, and when he sees a new boy, dressed strangely, loitering around, he is concerned about him as well. He and Gibby both talk to him, and the boy, Ridge, eventually confesses that he is a time traveler from the future. Of course, the 1999 kids don't believe him, bur Ridge tells them that an earthquake will occur that day in Turkey. When it does, they take him seriously. We learn a lot of information about Ridge's life in 2199, 200 years in the future, in chapters where his brother Shale, and his mother, Dr. Maria Sabio, discuss what is going on in their time frame. Dr. Sabio perfected the STM (Spatial Teleportation Module), but is feeling resistance from the scientific community about actually sending people into the past or future. It seems better to send artificial intelligence, due to the threat of diseases for both the time traveler and the world to which they travel. Ridge was irritated with his brother, and used the device out of anger. Gibby and Michael manage to get him better clothes, and talk to him a lot about what will occur, although Ridge tries to follow some of the rules for time travel; of course, he's already broken a lot of them. When Ridge decides to go back home, his device doesn't work. He uses the opportunity to see a mall; he's obsessed with the decade of the 1990s, and has traveled with a "summary book" with information about this time period.  Michael has his own problems, and is still worried about Y2K as well as Mr. Mosely, who hasn't been feeling well. Ridge isn't able to tell Gibby and Michael much about the future, because, as he says, "it's like explaining the internet to someone who doesn't know what electricity is". When Ridge becomes ill, it becomes more imperative for him to return to his own time. When he finally thinks he can get back, he leaves Gibby a note that says "Netflix IPO 2002". An epilogue tells us how Gibby and Michael's lives continued after their unlikely encounter with Ridge. 
Strengths: I love a good time travel book, and this had several elements that make it successful. There is a very scientific but somewhat vague mechanism for the process, and a very well thought out preparation for time travel. The sumbooks are awesome, especially since they are in paper format because the technology is always available! Ridge is just awkward enough to stand out even though he is prepared. Michael's ordinary life plays into the story just enough, and I absolutely adored that he grew as a character due to his experience with Ridge. He becomes less anxious, and even phones a girl and approaches neighborhood boys to play basketball afterwards. I'm not usually a fan of epilogues, but the one at the end of this story made me happy. The details of the 1990s are exquisite. Rather a different book for Kelly, but quite a successful one. 
Weaknesses: The chapters set in 2199 were information heavy and slowed down the story. I'm almost gave this four stars (which is rare; nearly everything gets three), but will have to go with 3.5 because of this. 
What I really think: I love time travel so much, but my students are somewhat reluctant to pick it up. Since they have parents who were Michael's age in the 1990s, I think I can sell this on the nostalgia factor, like Graff's Rewind or Eulbuerg's The Best Worst Summer

Cruz, Gloria and Rebar, Sarah (illus.) Flashback to the . . . Chill 2000s!
August 29, 2023 by Simon Spotlight
Library copy

Because students occasionally have to read a certain number of books, I like to keep short, fun nonfiction in stock to meet these goals while also teaching my readers something. I bought all three books in the series, but am still waiting for the 1980s and 1990s. This was a fun overview of the 2000s, and did have some photographs along with the illustrations. This hit the highlights, but I'm not entirely sure the word "fetch" was used as much as the author seems to think. I started my current job in 2002, and my own children were in middle school, so a lot of the trends seemed familiar; butterfly clips and the Wii certainly infiltrated my house. This could have used a bit more research; the ice bucket challenge, which was used to illustrate YouTube, didn't happen until 2014, and while Netflix might have started at this time, it was far more common to go to a video store or the library to get DVDs. Still, a fun overview, and I always wished I had picked up some of those 2000 glasses. I got my Master of Library Science degree in 2000, and did buy a ring similar to the one below as a keepsake! 

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Happy Opening Day!

Buckley Jr.,  James. Out of the Park!: True Stories of the Greatest Players Who Changed the Game
March 12, 2024 by becker&mayer! kids 
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Want an engrossing book to turn to after watching the opening day game today? Look no further than this fascinating volume. Even though I don't know a lot about baseball, the formatting of this was exquisitely engaging and reminded me a bit of the Sports Illustrated Then to Wow titles in the wide array of facts presented. This is divided up into different positions or types of activity of the field, each of which are supported by statistics, facts, and short biographies of famous players. There's a nice contrast between older players and newer ones, and it's handy that the players who are in the Hall of Fame are in bold type. Since this book is officially licensed by the Baseball Hall of Fame, there are a large number of great photographs. This is a beautiful book packed with all sorts of information. I wish I had a copy right now for an 8th grade nonfiction project, but will definitely order a copy for next year. It's available through Follett's Titlewave, even though I've never heard of the press. Buckley is apparently a prominent sports writer. (Oh. Apparently a division of Quarto Publishing that is not important enough to be given capitalization.)

MacLachlan, Patricia. Painting the Game
April 16, 2024 by Margaret K. McElderry Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus 

Lucy's father Luther is a pitcher with a minor league team, the Salem Red Sox. He is often gone on the road, but when he comes home, his team mate Edgar often comes to visit as well. Lucy plays baseball with her friends Tex and Robin, who are cousins, but won't pitch. She thinks the mound is scary, but decides that maybe it is time to work on her courage. She starts to practice in the yard in the early morning before her family is awake, but doesn't keep the secret very long. She tells Tex and Robin, who work with her on it. Her mother is a painter, who often does baseball related pictures, or landscapes of the farmland around their home; there are goats being raised near one of the fields where they kids play, hence their appearance on the cover. Lucy's father is reknowned for his knuckleball, and as he prepares to sub in for a pitcher in a game where there will be major league scouts, Lucy decides that she can work on her own bravery along with a knuckleball of her own. Her father is surprised and delighted that she is following in his footsteps, the mother's exhibit goes well, although the family is sad not to have her pictures in the house, and when Luther and Edgar are offered positions on the Boston Red Sox, Lucy is given the opportunity to throw the first pitch of the season in Fenway Park.
Strengths: Like all of MacLachalan's work, this is lyrical, introspective, and begs to be read aloud. Just make sure you have tissues handy. Big Feelings are discussed, and heart strings are tugged. It's a gentle exploration of family dynamics and how they affect personal growth. It was good to see that the parents not only were both alive, but liked each other. Lucy's friends are supportive, and there's an adorable dog, Ruby, with a heart shaped mark on her side. 
Weaknesses: Lucy makes a big deal about different secrets, like practicing in the early morning, or learning how to throw a knuckle ball, but tells them on the next page, practically. Also, there was no reason to mention the goats nearby or have them on the cover. 
What I really think: I was sad when I heard MacLachlan died , and know that she had many fans. I always felt like I should read books like Kindred Souls,  The Truth of Me, Just Dance, and The Poet's Dog. In general, her work tends to be more elementary focused, and that's not my literary orientation. Just not my cup of tea.

Goosebumps: Slappy's World

Stine, R.L. Night of the Squawker (Goosebumps SlappyWorld #18)
April 4, 2023 by Scholastic Paperbacks
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Cooper Klavan and his friend Denzel are trying to film a zombie movie in the woods near his house for entry in a film festival, but they are interrupted when Cooper's ornithologist parents want him to go on a fishing trip with them. Younger sister Anna is a bit annoying, and when she finds an large, odd bird near an experimental area, she wants to bring it home, even after it bites her. Once at home, Anna exhibits some odd symptoms; she's scared of her cat, pecks in the dirt, won't eat eggs, and sits around chirping! She even gets so high up in a tree that Cooper calls 911, only to have her be back on the ground by the time help arrives. Cooper decides to switch the theme of his movie to documenting his sister's odd behavior. The bird, whom she calls Oggie, escapes, but comes back, and Cooper becomes so alarmed when his sister collects twigs and leaves and builds a nest in her closet that he tells his parents what he has witnessed, but all of the evidence on his phone is erased. Oggie escapes, and Anna bites Cooper. Will he turn into a bird because of that, or is there something more evil going on in his household?

There is something about Stine's writing that turns even the silliest "scare" into something riveting. The way he highlights sibling relationships and involves the parents in the situations adds a close-to-home familial feel that heightens the fright factor. What is more frightening than seeing one's sister turning into a bird? Not being believed when one tells an adult! This works especially well since Anna is only usually vaguely annoying, and it was also nice to see that Cooper involves her in his movies and seems to have some real affection for her. 

The other very effective strategy is the cliff hanger endings to every chapter. Stine is a master of heightening tension, then gently bringing the reader back down by making the beginning of the next chapter something benign. This also keeps readers turning past the required chapter, in an effort to find out what is happening next! 

This mixture of scary and goofy is somewhat hard to find, but readers who have raced through the entire Slappy's World series can also look to Lubar's Weenies short stories or Brallier's dystopia Last Kids on Earth books. 

Stine, R.L. Friiight Night (Goosebumps SlappyWorld #19)
July 4, 2023 by Scholastic Paperbacks
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Kelly Crosby has moved from a very small town to a larger one in another state, where he starts a new, private school. While classmate Gordon is not helpful, directing him to the wrong places, some of the kids at Adams Prep take him to the boiler room of the school to meet the monster who lives there. They are all very proud of Skwerm, who is large and frightening, and much better that Burrrph, who is at their rival school. Kelly learns that all schools in the state have monsters in the boiler room to keep the equipment running and to serve as security providers, and the school plans activities around these monsters. The next one is Friiight Night, where one student who hasn't done as well in the testing serves as the monster's "date" and babysits the monster. Only 10% of these events end in the date being eaten, but Skwerm has taken a rather distinct dislike to Kelly, in part because of Gordon's pranks, like telling Kelly that Skwerm likes eggs when he is really allergic to them. Kelly's friend back home, Charlene, is concerned for his safety and begs to come visit for the event. Kelly's parents think that being eaten by the monster would be somehow prestigious, and all worthwhile in the support of the school! Kelly disagrees. After thinking that another student might take his place, but being disappointed after her family schedules a vacation for that week, Kelly makes plans to ensure his safety. Feeling that Skqerm might be lonely, he enlists his friends into kidnapping Burrph so that the two monsters can hang out together and not be lonely. Will this work, or will it end in a slime and ooze soaked bloodfest?

Slappy's unhinged introductions always are a good cue to suspend disbelief, and the parents assertions that this is all perfectly normal are frighening in themselves! What parent is okay with their child being eaten by a monster for The Greater Good? The other students don't necessarily like the idea, but are so used to it being the norm that they play right along. The cognitive disconnect that Kelly feels is as terrifying as Skwerm! How is everyone okay with a 90% survival rate for a school activity?

I appreciate the description of the monsters, the fact that Kelly is able to disarm them both with his juggling skills, and the fact that Charlene cares enough about her friend's destiny to beg her mother to visit him in his new town. Gordon was an interesting character as well, but not really explored. I thought perhaps he would get fed to Skwerm instead of Kelly, which would serve him right! 

Monster tales can be hard to find, but this is an excellent addition to monster lore, as seen in Fisher's Scare Scape duology, Fournet's Brick Dust and Bones, Hermon's Hide and Seeker, and Gilman's Tales from Lovecraft Middle School. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2024


Millington, Allie. Olivetti
March 26, 2024 by Feiwel & Friends
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

The Brindles are a close knit family, with busy lives; Athletic Ezra; theater-loving Adalyn; anxious, dictionary fan Ezra; and young Arlo, who has pet frogs. Watching over all of them is the sentient typewriter Olivetti. When Beatrice Brindle, the mother, drops off Olivetti at the local pawn shop and asks for exactly $126 in exchange, Olivetti (who remembers everything ever typed on his keys) feels betrayed. When Beatrice then goes missing, the Brindles are understandably worried and set out to look for her. The police tell them that all indications point to the mother running away on her own, and don't necessarily feel that she is in danger. When the family is in the pawn shop hanging up missing person signs, Ezra sees the typewriter and knows that something is wrong. He talks to the daughter of the owner, Quinn, who later leaves the shop door open so that Ernest can retrieve the typewriter. He quickly finds out that Olivetti can talk to him, and he pours out his own sadness onto the keys in the same way his mother did. Ernest feels that his mother's leaving is his fault; he was supposed to go to a new therapist to talk about why he is anxious and finds it hard to talk to people, preferring to read the dictionary instead of making friends. We also hear from Olivetti, as he is left on the roof of the San Francisco apartment building where the family lives, and is descrated by pigeons. Quinn becomes involved, and she and Ernest take to the library to try to find clues. They realize that the mother made friends with the building handyman, Thiago, and also learn from the librarian, Mrs. Vivien, that the last book the mother checked out was The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In addition to finding clues about Beatrice's whereabouts, there are lots of conversations with Olivetti, and hundreds of pages of Beatrice's thoughts are typed out by Olivetti. When Quinn takes the typewriter back to the shop, he is bought by an evil artist who uses typewriter parts to make sculptures, and Olivetti narrowly escapes being completely destroyed. Ernest gets in trouble for the time he spends skipping school to hunt for his mother, and when he comes clean to his father, Felix, about the talking typewriter, the entire family gets involved in the investigation. The reason for the mother's disappearance becomes clear (I don't want to spoil it), and she is eventually tracked down. The family must deal with very serious issues in order to go forward, but are able to do so with Olivetti's help. Olivetti's talking abilities do help to save the library, which was going to be forced to close. 
Strengths: This is the most lovely cover I have seen in a while, and I am a HUGE fan of typewriters, although prefer Smith-Coronas to Olivettis or Remingtons, one of which makes an appearance at the pawn shop. (I own six or seven that I picked up at thrift stores before they became expensive.) This is an innovative way to include a magical element, and the mystery is solved in a believable way, using clues wisely. The Brindle family is quirky but interesting, and the family secret is sad but doesn't have to deal with the mother having an affair or something not in keeping with middle grade themes, which I feared for a bit. Quinn is an interesting character, and a horrific element is introduced with the typewriter cannibal artist. Olivetti has a very distinctive personality that seems right in line with how I would imagine a typewriter personality to be. Certainly, this is a completely fresh idea for a  middle grade novel. 
Weaknesses: Olivetti talks a lot about snot and bodily fluids, which seems an odd thing for a typewriter to be interested in. It also seemed off that typewriters do not like books. Typewriters can be involved in the writing process, so I thought that this level of hatred would be saved for computers. The  introspective tone of the book seemed more in keeping with books for adults with a children as protagonists. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who like books that try to soften sadness with magical elements, like Haydu's Eventown or Bushby's A Pocketfull of Stars. It also reminded me strongly of Broach's 2008 Masterpiece.

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Keeper of the Lost Cities and Malcolm Kid

Messenger, Shannon, Freen, Celina (adaptor), and Chianello, Gabriella (illus.).
Keeper of the Lost Cities The Graphic Novel Part 1: Volume 1 
November 7, 2023 by Aladdin
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Sophie Foster is struggling in middle school; she can hear everyone's thoughts, and the only thing that blocks them out is listening to music, but she gets in trouble for that. While on a field trip to a museum, she runs into Fitz, who is also a telepath and has been looking for her. He tells her that she is not really, human, but an elf who has been hidden on Earth, and light leaps her from San Diego to Eternalia. Since humans are forbidden in the Lost Cities and they are dressed like them, they have to be careful. Sophie is taken to be tested for admission to the Foxfire School, and surprises the board by easily reading the mind of Bronte, who is an Ancient. She gets a reluctant mentor in Tiergan, who agrees to help her master her mind reading skills. In order to stay in this new world, she has to leave her human family, which isn't easy. She is placed with Grady and Edaline, who lost their own teen daughter years ago. There is a complex social system in place in this world, and Sophie has to learn a lot not only about the school and her classmates, but also about the new world that she has entered. There is a class system of sorts, where people with simpler talents have simpler lives, and since Foxfire is a school for the very talented, the students are considered to be more noble, and wear capes to distinguish them. Sophie continues to hang out with Fitz, whom she rather likes, although his sister Brina is rather bratty and takes some time to warm up to this interloper. Sophie also makes friends with Dex (whom Fitz doesn't like) and Marella. There are all sorts of activities at Foxfire, although Sophie struggles with the headmistress, Dame Alina, who takes an instant dislike to her. There's games of Ultimate Splotching, problems in alchemy class, the pet Iggy the Imp, and plenty of student drama to enliven this first installment of this graphic novel adaptation of Messenger's long novel series. 

Messenger's first Keep of the Lost Cities book came out in 2012, when Harry Potter fever was still running high and magical academy books were popular after the final Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows book in 2007. There's been a resurgence in the genre in the 2020's with Alston's  Amari and the Night Brothers (2021), Sanders's Keynan Masters and the Peerless Magic Crew  (2023) and Hendrix's Adia Kelbara and the Circle of Shamans, and there have been more diverse representation ever since the We Need Diverse Books movement in 2014. There are currently nine books in Messenger's series, with a tenth, and possibly final book, expected in November of 2024. These books are all very high fantasy, filled with action and adventure, and each comes in at well over 400 pages. They have a small but very fervent fan base!

Since the books are so long, this graphic novel is just part one of the first book, which means that if all of the books were adapted, there would be twenty! The graphic novel might be a good way to introduce readers to this series, or to give fans an opportunity to revisit the characters and see a visual representation that might differ from their own. 

This version seems to stay true to the original, but the world building isn't as intense; the pictures add a lot of details, but there were some things that were a little unclear. Why were some of the characters so mean to Sophie? What's the deal between Dex and Fitz? Is there a secret about Sophie's foster parents? And why does Sophie keep tugging at her eyelashes? (Complete with a small written "tug" next to her face.) It's been a while since I read the original, so I forget some of the finer points of these relationships and events. 

This is a nicely done book that will be popular with graphic novel fans who don't have as many choices as do the fans of artist's memoirs (think Telgemaier, Krosoczka's Sunshine, Harper's Bad Sister, Martin's Mexikid, Bermudez's Big Apple Diaries and so many others), and might lead new readers into the complex world of the Lost Cities. 

I didn't buy the original series, since by 2012 I had very few fantasy readers and LOTS of fantasy books, and this didn't cover any particularly new ground. There are maybe two students a year who ask for the books, but even they tend to buy them or get them from the public library. I don't regret my original decision not to purchase! Interestingly, only two of the five middle schools in my district have any copies of these. I've always felt a little bad about not buying this, since Messenger started the Marvelous Middle Grade Monday blog meetup, but I have never had the readers for this. I'm sure other schools do. 

Paramore, Austin and Bollinger, Sarah. Malcolm Kid and the Perfect Song
August 1, 2023 by Oni Press
Public library copy

Malcolm is too poor even to be robbed on the subway; a local thug even gives Malcolm a squashed granola bar when he finds out Malcolm has no money. He DOES have two parents and a younger brother to whom he is close, but his father is very much against his musical aspirations, for reasons he won't really explain. When Malcolm's keyboard is broken, his friend January takes him to a mysterious shop where a man with mesmerizing eyes convinces him to take a free keyboard. Of course, it's haunted, and Malcolm finds himself falling into a dream where he meets a man named Lawrence who needs help playing "the perfect song" so he can move along. After doing some research, Malcolm and January find out the man's true identity and try to help him to escape the purgatory he is in. 

This was an interesting graphic novel, and would be great for middle school and high school readers who are really interested in music. I liked the illustration style, but I almost wish this had been in black and white. It's colored in shades of brown that are just kind of murky. I may purchase this one; the light romance between Malcolm and January is charming, and I liked that they were both in high school. It looks like there might be a sequel. 

Monday, March 25, 2024

MMGM- Kyra, Just for Today and Marked Man

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 
Zarr, Sara. Kyra, Just for Today
March 5, 2024 by Balzer + Bray
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Kyra and her mother Meg have a good life along the coast in California. Not great, but much better than five years ago, when Meg was struggling with active alcoholism. Her mom's been clean for a while, and the two have a routine. Her mother has a cleaning business that keeps them fed and in a decent apartment, even if they struggle to pay some bills. Meg is thoughtful about her recovery, goes to an AA meeting every week and talks to her sponsor. Kyra goes to a group, too, and is friends with Lu and her older sister Casey, who also attend. Their father is an alcoholic who left the family, and their mother remarried Steve, who is a high school friend of Meg's, so the families are very close. Lately, Lu has been hanging out a lot with Till and her group of friends, which disconcerts Kyra. Over winter break, Meg is given the opportunity to spend time for free in a client's house in Lake Tahoe, provided that she cleans it. Since Kyra has never seen snow, she's excited to go somewhere, especially since everyone else in her class seems to travel as well. The two have a great time, but when they get back, something seems off with Meg. She's working longer hours, sometimes sleeping past her alarm, and Kyra is very worried that she has started to drink. There are even a couple of days that she calls Kyra off sick from school so that she can help clean. Kyra is afraid to say anything in her support group or to Lu, especially since her friend is spending more and more time with the "cool girls". Kyra is able to hold things together until she burns her ankle making caramel, so that she can make cookies for Lu's birthday. Unable to get ahold of her mother, she calls Casey, who takes her home. Casey's mom takes Kyra to the urgent care to get her ankle looked at, and when Meg is finally located, it's decided that Kyra will stay with Lu's family for a while. Meg has started drinking again, and while it's not as bad as it had been, it's still worse than a "slip". In some ways, it's a relief to be a Lu's house where she is taken care of, and to finally know what is going on with Meg, but it's also hard to deal with friend issues and problems at school when she is worried that the life she has built with her mother might all crumble. Will Meg be able to regain her sobriety and keep life on an even keel for her and Kyra?
Strengths: I've been a fan of Zarr's work since Sweethearts (2008), and especially loved her entry into the realm of middle grade, A Song Called Home (2022). While there are many books with middle school aged characters facing really bad life situations and dealing with grief, it's much more realistic to see tenuous situations that are generally pretty good, but which can go bad in the blink of an eye. It's interesting to see how a young character copes with having to take care of herself and her parent, and to see the skills that Kyra is able to develop. She cooks really well, likes to clean, and does well with schoolwork when she is not worried about her mother. The depiction of a support group is helpful in case readers might be in need of one themselves; the details of what goes on at a meeting, as well as the links to help find where they are held, could be very useful to the right reader. The best part of this was the sense of resiliency and optimism. It wasn't a "oh, everything will be perfectly fine" sort of vibe, but rather one of quiet optimism that hard work and care will pay off, if only "just for today". Sometimes that's all we can hope for. 
Weaknesses: This moved a little bit slowly at first, but I started to realize that this gave the book a palpable feeling of dread that mimics Kyra's emotions. I think that my readers will like this, although I do wish the cover were slightly different. 
What I really think: It seems like there were more books about children dealing with alcoholism in the 1970s, but we are seeing a few more in the last couple of years, like Petro-Roy's Life in the Balance (2021), Bailey's Snow Foal (2021), Walter's The King of Jam Sandwiches (2021), Englefried's Learning to Fall (2022), and Lord's Home Away From Home (2023). This is the kind of sad book that does very well with my students, so I will definitely purchase a copy. 

Florio, John and Shapiro, Ouisie.
Marked Man: Frank Serpico's Inside Battle Against Police Corruption
March 19, 2024 by Roaring Brook Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Born in 1936, Frank Serpico's life started out in a fairly typical fashion. Immigrant parents, working in the family store, high school graduation, serving in Korea. He eventually made it into the police academy, and that's where things get interesting. He had several different assignments, and tried to move up in the ranks, but lacked the ability to read the room, which made it hard for him to get ahead. He dressed differently, and perhaps didn't connect with other officers or superiors who would have helped his upward movement. Of course, this served him well when he was exposed to the corruption in the police force. Upon receiving an envelope with $300 in it (which was a lot of money back in the 1960s; my mother was making $3,000 a year as a teacher), he feels immediately that it isn't right to keep it, and tries to talk to several people about it. He learns that this is considered part of the job, and that most of the policemen are on the take. When he tries to consult "good cops" and go to the newspaper, he finds out that even the editor of the newspaper pays bribes to the force so that the newspaper trucks don't get tickets. It's hard to fight that kind of system, but he eventually helps break a story, and for a while, there is some upheaval in the force and people brought to justice. Of course, if we look at other instances in the book, some from the 1990s when headlines screamed that someone was bringing home $4,000 a week in dirty money, it seems that Serpico changed very little. He was injured in the line of duty and eventually left the police force to live a quiet life after the 1973 Peter Maas book about his experiences was turned into a 1973 movie with Al Pacino. 
Strengths: For as violent and dangerous as Serpico's life was, the book is fairly tame. There's plenty of suspense and danger, but most of the book is concerned with how Serpico tried to work within the system to change things. There's just enough of an overview of his life before and after this rather short period of time when he was involved in trying to uncover corruption. There are a few pictures, lots of source notes, and this has the same appeal that this team's 2019 War in the Ring: Joe Louis, Max Schmeling, and the Fight between America and Hitler has. An excellent choice for starting a research project or just getting a short dose of interesting history. 
Weaknesses: There is one f-bomb at the very beginning of the book, in a quote from Serpico himself, which wasn't unnecessary. It would have been nice to see some of the impact of Serpico's work on current policing, but it's not the fault of Florio and Shapiro that the law enforcement system has changed all too little. 
What I really think: This is a fairly short book (160 pages including lots of end notes), and there's enough interest in true crime in my library that I will purchase this to hand to readers who have gobbled up all of the Denson FBI Files books or Sullivan's graphic novels like Escape From Alacatraz

Sunday, March 24, 2024

City Girls and The World Divided by Piper

Lopez, Loretta. City Girls
March 12, 2024 by Triangle Square
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Elisa has come from El Salvador to live with her mother, whom she hasn't seen since she was four years old. Her mother, who came to New York without documentation, deemed the journey to the US too dangerous, and left Elisa with her abuela. There, she was mistreated by the grandmother and also abused by a scary "chicken man" who haunts her dreams. She is working with a lawyer, Leah, who is interviewing her and working on her case for asylum. Elisa is slowly getting used to being with her mother, who is pregnant, and her mother's boyfriend, Octavio. At school, Elisa is doing fairly well, and befriends Lucia, whose mother is an oncologist and. The family is much better off that Elisa's. They are struggling with their own issues, however; Lucia's grandmother in Mexico has died, and when the book switches to her perspective, we learn that Lucia suspects her father is cheating on her mother. This is a lot to deal with at the age of eleven, but it's not as much as Alice has to deal with. Another classmate, Alice's father is a famous jazz musician who is older. Her mother gave up her musical career to raise Alice, and the free thinking "hippie" lifestyle doesn't go over too well with either Elisa or Lucia's families. Still, the girls befriend Alice, who is struggling with her mother battle with liver cancer. Lucia's mother is her oncologist, and when a new liver becomes available, the girls all hope that Alice's mother will get better, and that Alice's rage will be dealt with. 
Strengths: Ms. Lopez is a therapist who based these characters on girls she has worked with at The Brave House, so the details about struggles with immigration issues and the resultant mental health challenges that Elisa faces are very engaging. The friendship between the three very different girls is interesting, and they help each other out quite a bit. All of the parents play a larger role in the lives of the girls than I have seen in other middle grade novels, which seems rather realistic; I know that books sometimes kill off or incapacitate the parents in order to give the younger characters more freedom, but I think that in real life, children's lives are more greatly affected by family dynamics than is usually portrayed. Readers who like to see stories from a variety of perspectives will enjoy this.
Weaknesses: The cover of this made me think it would be set in the 1980s, but this was clearly a modern day novel. The characters all seemed younger than 11, and since they faced problems like possible sexual abuse, infidelity, and cancer, this might make it hard for the book to find the right audience, at least at my school. My 6th graders don't like problem novels as much, and my 7th graders want to read about characters who are their own age or older. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who found Glaser's A Duet For Home or Ehren's Matasha interesting. 

I liked the cover on the bottom better, but the one on the top is the one currently appearing on Amazon.
Carter, Caela. The World Divided by Piper
March 19, 2024 by Quill Tree Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus
Piper's life has had some turmoil recently; her mother had a baby about a year ago, her half sister Eloise has a boyfriend and a job and isn't home as much, and her endocrinologist is recommending that she stop taking the puberty blockers that she has been on since her diagnosis of early onset puberty was she was six. Piper is very intelligent, and heavily involved with an Academic Decathalon team with her friend Tallulah. Piper's mother is a professor of math, and teaches things like Advanced Theoretical Calculus, but still is ignored by doctors and called MRS. Frankin instead of Dr. or Ms., which Piper finds infuriating. Piper is determined to stay on the puberty blockers because she does not want to grow up and look like her mother, but she's having a hard time making her mother believe her reasons. Piper has been attending meetings of Healthy Happy Humans, a group for children experiencing problems with puberty, and her best friend, Ivan, is taking similar blockers because he is a trans boy. If they are safe for him, Piper reasons that she can stay on them as well. She hasn't told Tallulah these things, and Tallulah has her own challenges, since she is hyperintelligent but also struggles with ADHD, and is also Black. Since there have been few participants in Academic Decathalon who are Black, Tallulah feels a lot of stress and pressure with the competition, and she and Piper are having trouble deciding how they should divide the specialities. Despite Piper's repeated objections, her mother has her stop taking the puberty blockers. Since this occurs right around the time of the Decathalon competition, Piper is very upset. She eventually talks to people who help her put words to her feelings, and she is able to make her mother and Eloise understand that she doesn't mean to be hurtful when she says she doesn't want to look like them; this is just how she is reacting to the systemic oppression of women. Will Piper and her family be able to come to an agreement about her treatment? 
Strengths: There are not very many books about children involved in able and talented programs or academic competitions, and since a lot of my friends took part in things like Quiz Bowl, this was good to see. I also can't think of any middle grade books that address early onset puberty, or any endocrine problems, with the possible exception of Sloan's Short. Since I have known several people who have had to be on growth hormones, hormonal complications seem like underrepresented medical conditions in middle grade literature.  
Weaknesses: This is very contemplative and philosophical, as well as very intense. I'm not sure how many eleven year olds have the background knowledge to fully understand the idea of systemic oppression, but perhaps this book will help with that. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who liked Salazar's The Moon Within or 

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Happy Birthday, Fannie Farmer and I Feel Awful, Thanks

Smith, Emma Bland and Reagan, Susan (illus.)
The Fabulous Fannie Farmer: Kitchen Scientist and America’s Cook
January 30, 2024 by Calkins Creek
Copy provided by the publisher

Born in 1857, young Fannie Farmer probably followed the path of many young girls, helping her mother in the kitchen, but there is little about her early life. We do know that after a bout of what was most likely polio, her plans for attending college were scuttled, and she was not able to go to college to become a teacher. It wasn't until she was 31 years old that friends convinced her to attend the famous Boston Cooking School. She did so well there that she eventually taught at the school and became the head of it in 1894, around the time that my grandmother was born! She not only enjoyed cooking, but had a scientific bend, and when she wrote a bookbook for the school, she made sure to include complete measurements as well as detailed instructions rather than relying on the tradional, less formal recipes that included "pinches" of spices and "sugar to taste". She had to pay for the book's publication, but was savvy enough to get most of the profit. When the book did well, it changed the way that recipes were passed along, and helped reframe home economics with a more scientific focus. 

I am absolutely fascinated by the women who took traditionally feminine pursuits like cooking and managaed to elevate them in a way that helped give them more importance in a male dominated world. This picture book addresses the fact that cooking was considered something where "feminine intuition" played a large role, and something that women were supposed to know how to do naturally. We all know that this is not the case, so having recipes that give precises measurements and actual instructions for what to do with them is very helpful! The look at the Boston Cooking School was quite interesting. I know that when my grandmother attended teacher's college in 1912, she had to take cooking courses, and her notebooks included measurements, showing how fast the influence of Farmer's Boston Cooking School Cook Book spread. 

Reagan's illustrations are captivating and do a good job at capturing the feel of the mid 1800s and showing how different clothing, kitchens, and food was during that time. There are even two recipes, one for popovers (which are great fun to make when they are successful!) as well as for angelfood cake. 

If you want a deep dive into home economics, take a look at Dreilinger's fascinating The Secret History of Home Economics: How Trailblazing Women Harnessed the Power of Home and Changed the Way We Live, but for younger readers, add this book to a shelf in the kitchen that includes Hopkinson and Carpenter's 2001 Fannie in the Kitchen: The Whole Story From Soup to Nuts of How Fannie Farmer Invented Recipes with Precise Measurements, Stanley's Alice Waters Cooks Up a Food Revolution, Rockliff's Try It!: How Frieda Caplan Changed the Way We Eat, Ford's How the Cookie Crumbled: The True (and Not-So-True) Stories of the Invention of the Chocolate Chip Cookie and Hartland's Bon Appetit! The Delicious Life of Julia Child.  

Pickle, Lara. I Feel Awful, Thanks
March 5, 2024 by Oni Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Joana lives in Spain, but manages to get a job as a potions master in London. It's hard to move to a new country and start a new job, but she's so glad to have her dream job that she manages to find a room to rent and get to know people at work. She is working on a project to help people talk to animals, but has a disagreement about the process with the project manager, Tom. She wants to follow company policy and not use any animal products in the creation of the potion, but Tom wants the team to use animal fur because it will be the quickest way to get the project completed and earning money. When Joana makes progress under her own terms, Tom is unkind and makes her life difficult. The woman from whom she rents the room is overly controlling, and makes home a stressful place for Joana. Even her supportive boyfriend is a cause for anxiety. When she has a bit of a meltdown at work, some of her friends suggest that she start seeing a therapist; the first one doesn't work well, but when Joana starts seeing a "dragon tamer" she is able to work through her insecurities, confront her awful boss, work through her budding romance, and find ways to deal with her life. 
Strengths: This is on trend with the current feelings toward anxiety and therapy, so there will be a lot of fans of this story. The London setting is appealing, and most readers are going to think that Joana's job making magical potions is a fantastic one. Of course, adulthood often seems appealing on the surface, but has problems that need to be worked through. The evil boss is dealt with in a manner that also shows current thoughts; he's dismissed and Joana gets to head the team. The illustrations are appealing, and I can see this being a very popular choice with readers who internalized Harry Potter and really think that somewhere, someday, they will find some magic for their own lives. 
Weaknesses: This is very tame for YA, but there is some drinking and several times that Joana and her boyfriend are shown cuddling in bed. Also, I somehow didn't understand that the illustrations were dragons; it looked like shattered glass to me. 
What I really think: Amazon lists this as "16 years and up", which would make sense. I think some of my readers might enjoy this, but it definitely felt more YA, so I will probably pass on purchase.Ms. Yingling

Friday, March 22, 2024

Listen to This

Blecher, Jennifer. Listen to This
March 26, 2024 by Greenwillow Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus
Lily and Will like each other, but this is never an easy thing to navigate in middle school! Lily, Maddie, and Sasha have been friends for a long time, and are there to support each other, but as seventh grade progresses, things start to change. There is a dance coming up that they all expect to go to together, but since Maddie and Sasha are on a premier soccer team that Lily didn't make, they will have to miss the dance. Not only that, but Maddie has told Lily a big secret that she isn't telling Sasha, and Sasha has secrets of her own. Will has his own struggles; his mother died when he was in third grade, and his father started a podcast called Dr. Dad that starts with Will's mother singing You Are My Sunshine. Will's friend Gavin listens to the podcast and often gives Will a hard time about it; he's Will's only friend, but is the kind of friend that makes one wonder why there is a friendship at all. To complicate matters, Will's mother Stephanie was best friends with the mother of Sienna, the seventh grade mean girl. Will and Sienna were close years ago, but lately Sienna has been unpleasant. It doesn't help that her mother seems to prefer Will, and is always fighting with Sienna. There's some fighting in Lily's world as well, since her older sister Reese is interested in fashion, and their mother doesn't think that social media is important. When Sienna, who is trying to match everyone up for the school dance, invites Lily to a sleepover, Lily is thrilled to be included at first, but when Lily refuses to call Will up and ask him to the dance, Sienna abruptly calls off the sleepover. Not only that, but when it turns out Lily has accidentally worn Sienna's even eye necklace home, Sienna starts a rumor that Lily has stolen it. Lily and Will start a very supportive relationship, but it is sabotaged when Will's father posts a picture of Will buying a similar necklace. Lily assumes that it is for Sienna, so stops talking to Will, and Will asks Stephanie for help after he fights with his father about the podcast. Emotions are running high, but will the two be able to untangle all of the complicated relationships of middle school to make their new one work? 
Strengths: This captured the beginning of a middle school romance brilliantly and awkwardly; I love how Will and Lily both struggle to connect to each other, and also have to deal with the perceptions of others, like Sienna, who feel compelled to insert themselves into their new relationship. That is middle school exactly. While Will's mother is dead, and there is some talk of the father struggling, the two seem to have found a way forward, even thought for the father this is revealing all of Will's life on his podcast! Sienna's mean girl is also intriguing, as she is portrayed as having struggles of her own. This moved forward quickly, and is just the sort of story I would have loved in middle school. 
Weaknesses: I wish we had seen more of Gavin, and learned how Will navigated this annoying friend. I'm so intrigued by friendships that don't make sense, like in Walker's Let's Pretend We Never Met. I think a lot of people have friends in middle and high school that they don't really LIKE all that much, but are still friends with for any number of complicated reasons. I'd love to see this explored in more middle grade novels. 
What I really think: I somehow didn't recognize this author, who also did Camp Famous and Stick With Meboth of which I liked and bought. This was great fun, and I am looking forward to handing it to both male and female readers, since it told from dual perspectives. There are not enough books with boys as the main characters that deal with romance, and this is perfect for fans of Richardson's Stu Truly and Costner's My Life as a Potato, which are both HUGELY popular in my library. 

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Bird Girl and One Big Open Sky

Esbaum, Jill and Gibbon, Rebecca (illus.)
Bird Girl: Gene Stratton-Porter Shares Her Love of Nature with the World
March 12, 2024 by Calkins Creek
Copy provided by the publisher

While I have yet to read Stratton-Porter's 1909 Girl of the Limberlost, I have several older friends for whom this book was a favorite, and after reading Bird Girl, I might have to read this classic, along with her 1904 Freckles. Considering how much building is going on in Ohio due to the Intel factory, the message about saving natural environments is more timely than ever!

Born in 1864, young Geneva loved being outdoors, and had a special love for birds. When her family had to move to the city, she brought along several as pets, but missed being able to go into the wilderness. As an adult, she was able to return to living in the country, and wrote stories for magazines about her adventures, but was appalled that they would be illustrated with pictures of stuffed birds. Once she got a camera, she went to great lengths to capture birds in their native element, no matter how muddy she got, and earned great acclaim for her photography as well as her writing. 

An afterword tells more about Stratton-Porter's life, as well as the fate of the Limberlost, which was damaged by development, but in recent years has seen successful reclamation efforts. This was new information to me, since I had only been familiar with her novels that were roughly contemporary to Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables

Gibbons, who also illustrated  Marjory Saves the Everglades: The Story of Marjory Stoneman Douglas by Sandra Neil Wallace, soe a great job at capturing the flora and fauna of Stratton-Porter's world and making it a setting into which the reader would love to travel, with it's colorful plant life and vibrant birds. 

While it would be great to include this book in a display for Women's History Month, I'd also love to see it showcased for Earth Day in April along with The Leaf Detective: How Margaret Lowman Uncovered Secrets in the Rainforest by Lang and Christy, Rachel Carson and Her Book that Changed the World by Lawlor, Seeds of Change: Wangari's Gift to the World by Johnson and Sadler, and Cactus Queen: Minerva Hoyt Establishes Joshua Tree National Park by Alexander and Ely.
Cline-Ransom, Lesa. One Big Open Sky
March 5, 2024 by Holiday House
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this novel in verse, Lettie thinks that her family is doing fairly well in 1879 Mississippi, even though her father struggles a bit with the land that they farm. Her father, however, struggles with the fact that his family were sold away from him when they were enslaved, and isn't happy to have to work land that doesn't belong to him. When he decides to head west to Nebraska to stake his claim there, Lettie, her brothers Elijah and Silas, and her mother, Sylvia are uprooted. The family prepares a wagon with all of their supplies, and makes arrangements to get out west. Sylvia is dismayed to leave her family, especially since she is pregnant. The journey doesn't go well, starting with the fact that the ship on which they are supposed to sail up the Mississippi river won't let their family on because they are Black. They also underestimate the supplies that they will need, and end up having to restock in Independence, Missouri where things are very expensive. They are lucky to have a teacher, Philomena, agree to pay them in exchange for riding in their wagon with them. She is leaving a difficult home life for a teaching job and ends up being a very helpful member of the group, helping out with cooking and various tasks. Lettie adopts the dog of one settler who perishes, and Sutter never leaves her side. The trail west was fraught with all sorts of dangers, and Lettie's family experiences many of them, including a tragedy that puts the family's future in jeopardy. I would love to see a second book that details Lettie's new life in Nebraska. 
Strengths: It is always interesting to see different perspective for historical events, like Schwabach's Starting from Seneca Falls, and Cline-Ransom does a great job of weaving in details about the prejudice and racism Black people faced in the post Civil War South with an exploration of the difficulties of traveling west. The vast amount of walking, the limited food supplies, the dangerous river crossings, and the various other threats to survival are all fascinating; I loved this type a book when I was in elementary school because I liked to think how I would fare under similar circumstances. Lettie is keeping notes about the journey and logging costs, and I love how interested she is in the one newspaper that her father buys for her. Philomena is a fantastic character who is taking control of her own life, and even finding romance with another traveler who accepts her as an equal. The challenges of the journey are not sugar coated at all, and young readers who perhaps have never played the Oregon Trail computer game will be shocked at the lack of amenities. Survival stories are always popular with middle grade readers, and I think that Lettie's experiences will appeal to many of them. 
Weaknesses: While there was some mention of the Native American population with modern sensitivities in mind, I was expecting a lot more. The verse format doesn't allow as much background history to be included, and I wonder if younger readers who aren't as familiar with westward migration will need some nonfiction support for this title. 
What I really think: Carr's 1934 Children of the Covered Wagon was one of my favorite books in the 4th grade, so this was quite a treat for me. Hand this to readers who enjoyed Park's Prairie Lotus , Philbrick's Stay Alive, or Nolen's Hope's Path to Glory: The Story of a Family's Journey on the Overland Trail.