Friday, May 31, 2024

Codename Kingfisher

Kessler, Liz. Codename Kingfisher
May 7, 2024 by Aladdin
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Liv resides with her mother, a busy charity manager, and her father, an artist who works at home, in England. Her father's ninety year old mother, Bubbe, lives nearby, but is having lots of memory problems and has locked herself out of the house on several occasions. The mother, whose charity helps the elderly, would like to see Bubbe move to an assisted living facility, Rocklands, but the father is apprehensive. Liv is just embarrassed by her grandmother, and misses her grandfather. She's deeply involved with drama with her best friend, Karly, who has started to not only ignore Liv, but to be actively hostile towards her. When a school project on family history is assigned, Liv works with Gabi, who turns out to be a much better friend. Gabi has recently lost her own grandmother, and is understanding when Liv has to spend time helping to clean out Bubbe's house, and is even willing to join her. While working on these two projects, Liv finds information about her grandmother's life, tries to piece things together, and eventually locates a connection to the past for her grandmother to help her make peace with what happened to her during World War II.

In alternating chapters, we have the story of Mila, also known as Mimi, who has to leave her Jewish family along with her older sister Hanni and go live with strangers, the Van de Bergs, in Amsterdam. They no longer mention that they are Jewish, but cling to the story that they are cousins of young Dirk and Markus. Hanni is not content to lay low and stay safe, and starts to work with the Resistance, helping children be removed from dangerous situations. She works with Hugo, while Mimi makes friends with a neighbor, Willem, who has a dog, Bo. Mimi manages to make friends who are fairly understanding of her situation, but she misses her parents desperately, and also misses the closeness she has with Hanni, who is very secretive because she wants to keep Mimi safe. When a chance discovery puts people, including Hanni, in mortal danger, will Mimi ever be able to forgive herself?

The two storylines weave together very well; we know that Mimi is Bubbe, and Liv finds just enough information for her to approach Bubbe and get a few details. It's realistic that Bubbe wouldn't have wanted to talk about her past; few people did. There are few Holocaust survivors left, and this is a poignant story about a situation that would have happened again and again. It reminded me a bit of Moskin's I Am Rosemarie, although in that book, the main character ended up in a concentration camp, a fate that could have easily befallen Mimi. Nielsen's Resistance portrays experiences similar to Hanni's. I love that Kessler has turned her hand to historical fiction, and she does an excellent job. Not surprisingly, there is a wealth of British children's fiction about World War II that hasn't made it to this side of the pond, so I'm glad that this one did.

I LOVE the David Dean cover, although it makes me want to watch BBC period dramas, because a similar style is used in the introductions to The Durrells in Corfu and All Creatures Great and Small!

It's interesting to see Kessler change from fantasy books like Has Anyone Seen Jessica Jenkins? (2015), North of Nowhere (2013),  A Year Without Autumn (2011), or the famous Emily Windsnap books (2003!)  to more historical titles like When the World Was Ours

I think all of the titles below are 2024 or 2023!

Thursday, May 30, 2024

The One and Only Family

Applegate, K.A. The One and Only Family
May 7, 2024 by HarperCollins 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Ivan and Kinyani are settling into a routine life in the wildlife preserve. A hurricane damaged many of the buildings, but the primate enclosure is being enlarged and repaired. When Bob points out that Kinyani has gained some weight, Ivan assumes it is because the two are eating too many mangoes and bananas, but Bob tells him it is because Kinyani is going to have a baby. Ivan takes some time to get used to the idea of being a father, and remembers his home in Africa, his twin, Tag, and other parts of his life. He's not sure how to approach these with a baby, especially since Kinyani doesn't seem to think it's important. She spends lots of time with doctors, and when she is in labor, Ivan is kept away from her on the other side of the glass. It takes a while for him to be allowed to see the twin infants, whom the public names Tuma and Raji. The twins require lots of care, and Ivan learns to deal with this new chapter in his life. 
Strengths: Ivan has always managed to create a "found family" for himself wherever he is, even in the shopping mall, so it's gratifying to see him be able to raise a family of his own along with his mate. The zoo is undergoing some transformation, and seeing that from an animal perspective is interesting. The short, verse-like chapters and the illustrations will make this accessible to younger readers while Ivan's introspection about his lot in life will appeal to older ones as well. The real story of Ivan is very sad, and Applegate's ability to give him a happy, if fictional, ending is appreciated. 
Weaknesses: There's a lot of philosophy in this about memories and parenting, and I'm not sure how much this will resonate with young readers, who will be more interested in the twins antics. 
What I really think: The is an essential conclusion to this series, which includes The One and Only Ivan, The One and Only Bob, and The One and Only Ruby

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

The Monarchs of Winghaven

Moreira, Naila. The Monarchs of Winghaven
May 14, 2024 by Walker Books US
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Fifth grader Sammie's family has moved to a new town in New England for her father's job, and she is sad that she is no longer near a nature center, and also that her mother is now working all the time. For solace, she spends a lot of time in The Field, the property attached to an abandoned house. She wants to be a biologist when she grows up, so keeps detailed notes and drawings about the natural phenomenon she observes. When her mother tells her that she will be spending the summer at a camp with her schoolmates, Sammie is devastated. She would rather be alone, and even brushed off an attempt by a girl in her class to hang out with them. She especially dislikes Robert, who is a bit of a bully but also has a troubled homelife. When she meets a boy, Bram, in The Field, she is NOT happy, especially when he wants to see her notebook. He is a bird watcher, and takes photos of things, and has just moved to town because of his father's job. Sammie eventually warms to him after she falls into the creek, and his mother is kind enough to help her out. Bram is even allowed to have cookies without asking, which is the basis for many a tween friendship. The two have a small falling out when Sammie talks to Pete, a graduate student who is researching the birds in the area, but when the two are asked to help with a Christmas bird count, Bram decides that Pete isn't all bad. As the year progresses, there are some changes to the field, which they name Winghaven. The local Audubon society is interested in the area as well, and there is a lot of milkweed that has attracted those interested in Monarch butterflies, so when the property is covertly sold to a housing developer, Sammie is able to get the newspaper interested in the story. It doesn't look like Sammie and Bram, with Robert's help, will be able to prevail, but when Pete attends the meeting, and is now working for the Nature Conservancy, a satisfactory ending is possible. Winghaven is saved, and becomes a wildlife sanctuary so that the town can continue to enjoy the wildlife. 

Elementary students who are very interested in biology and outdoor pursuits will be sympathetic to Sammie's love of nature, her sensitivity to saving as many creatures as she can (even hydras in pond water!), and her desire to see a beloved natural area saved. Her friendship with Bram is good to see, although it is not surprising that she has trouble making friends at school if she tells well meaning classmates that she would rather be alone. 

The parents are involved in realistic ways, and Sammie even gets permission to stay with Bram and his mom Vicky, who is an artist who works from home, instead of going to the summer camp. The brief look into graduate work, the Audubon society, and town politics also gives young readers a taste of the larger world. 
This is a good choice for readers who like a good science based story like McDunn's When Sea Becomes Sky, Johnson's Rescue at Wild Lakeor Hurwitz's Hello From Renn Lake

I will probably pass on purchase, since I have trouble getting my readers to pick up the birding titles that I already have, but I would definitely purchase this for an elementary school library. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

A Galaxy of Whales

Fawcett, Heather. A Galaxy of Whales.
May 28, 2024 by Rocky Pond Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Fern lives in Washington state, where her mother continues to run the whale watching business that her Granny and Gramps started forty years ago. Her older brother, Hamish, helps too, but is more invested in the book series Space Dragons than in real life. The family business, Worthwhale Tours, has always politely feuded with a rival business, Whale of Fortune, run by the neighboring Roy family. Fern has a rather contentious relationship with Jasper Roy, although they are close enough to use the Roy's family duck, Herbert, to exchange messages. Herbert is a rescue duck that Jasper's sister, Emma, brought home. Fern is worried that the business is not doing well, so after Jasper tells her about the Youth Wildlife Photography contest sponsored by one of the local papers, she decides to enter with her best friend Ivy. She and Ivy have been friends for a long time, and have bonded over several similarities, such as both having attic rooms, but also over the fact that Fern's father, who was a photographer, passed away three years ago, and Ivy's mother passed away the year before that. Now, however, Ivy seems to be more friendly with Rachel, who is not always kind to Fern. Since Ivy isn't that interested in the contest, Fern reluctantly agreed to partner with Jasper, who wants to use the $5,000 contest money to buy a telescope for Emma, who was diagnosed with MS and has had to drop out of college when the disease flared. The two are focusing on the whales that their family tours watch, and hope to get good pictures, especially when one of the whales is expecting. After Hamish's birthday party, where Fern hears Ivy tell Rachel that they USED to be friends, Fern takes her camera out to one of the islands, thinking she will destroy it. She sees a bear, falls, and is concussed, but is fortunately saved by Brian, whom the Roys have hired to help them keep up with the location of the whales pods. Will Fern be able to come to terms with her changing relationships with Ivy and Jasper, and will the family business survive?
Strengths: The Pacific Northwest setting was interesting, and I enjoyed reading about the environmental impact of whale watching, as well as the aspects of tourism that help with conservation. Fern's extended family provided a lot of warm interactions, and I particularly loved Granny and Gramps and would have loved to hear more about how they started their business. Children wanting to help out with a family business is an emerging trend in middle grade literature, and quite a timely one, as many small business are facing economic challenges. Friendship drama is a staple of the middle grade experience, so Fern's dealings with both Ivy and Jasper will add to the appeal of this title.
Weaknesses: This was a little slower paced than some middle grade. The "ghost possum", Rufus, who lives in the walls of the house and Fern "sees" out and about was a bit confusing. I don't think his inclusion makes this a fantasy title; I think he's more along the lines of an imaginary friend. (Which is how Hamish describes him.)
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who want more information on whales and enjoyed titles like Morris and Brown's Willa and the Whale, Kelly's Song for a Whale, Wilson's The Longest Whale Song, or Parry's Written in Stone.

Monday, May 27, 2024

MMGM- Paula Danziger

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 
Danziger, Paula and Ying, Paula (illus.)
Amber Brown is Not a Crayon (Graphic Novel)
May 21, 2024 by G.P. Putnam's Sons BFYR
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this graphic novel adaptation of the 1994 chapter book, we meet  third grader Amber Brown,  who is dealing with a lot. Her parents are divorced, and her father has taken a job in France. On top of that, her neighbor and long time friend Justin is moving away because his father has gotten a job elsewhere. There are some good moments, like the class "trips" that their teacher, Mr. Cohen, arranges for their social studies classes, but as Justin's house sells and the move comes closer and closer, Amber is worried about missing Justin. She's also not sure who will be her new best friend. Justin doesn't seem to  be phased by the move, and is excited about his new school and house. When the two are cleaning out Justin's room and packing his possessions, they come across their gum  ball, something they have been adding to for years. Justin throws it away, and the two fight. Amber feels horrible not talking to her former best friend, but her mother encourages her to make up before he moves away.  This is the first book in a twelve book series that was started in 1994, the last thre of which were written by Bruce Coville after Danziger's untimely death in 2004. It is apparently now an Apple TV series, where Amber is starting middle school. 
Strengths: I don't know that I have read the original book, since it a bit on the young side for middle school, but the graphic novel treats emotions in a modern and updated way. Amber's classroom setting was fun to visit, and Mr. Cohen assigned interesting and engaging projects. There are fairly standard classroom dynamics; there are some boys Amber doesn't like as much, there's a girl who always tries to be perfect, etc., but she does identify some classmatese with whom she thinks she can get along. The issues with her parents' divorce and new living situation are realistically portrayed; in the television trailer, her father moves back to town. Ying's art is engaging, and the story moves along quickly. I'll be curious to see if the other books are also adapted. 
Weaknesses: Amber doesn't have much of a range of emotions in this book; she's mainly angry. This made it hard to get a feel for her character. 
What I really think: I would definitely buy this for an elementary library, and for a middle school where there is interest in this author or in the new television show with Amber in middle school. 

There's me in 7th grade, 1977. Not sure what was going on with the hair, but I got glasses soon after this was taken, which might explained my unfocused gaze. Still have the pin. 

Danziger was one of my favorite authors in middle school; I love the long, strange titles, the snarky voice, and the situations into which the characters got themselves. Ellen Conford's books were somewhat similar; girls my age doing things that were familiar, but slightly different. 

If you still have the title below on your library shelves, let me know!

Danziger, Paula. The Cat Ate My Gymsuit
September 15, 1974 by Random House
Library copy

Marcy Lewis doesn't like much. She has a very poor opinion of herself, inculcated in her by her parents' constant comments that she is fat and unattractive, and sits out gym class every day because there is not a gym suit large enough to fit her properly. She thinks school (which I believe might be a junior high, with Marcy in 9th grade) is a waste of time, she feels her best friend Nancy only hangs out with her because their mothers are friends, and her father is a truly horrible human being, so she's justified in that one. When her language arts teacher suddenly quits (to go to a home for single fathers?), her class full of advanced kids sets out to be nasty to her to get her to quit, but the young, hip teacher just stares them down until they are quiet. MS. Barbara Finney believes that language arts is about communication, and wants them to get in touch with their feelings and question their place in society... after they learn about dangling participles. Marcy starts to be more invested in school, but also becomes increasingly dissatisfied with her life at home, where her father tells her she is too fat for him to get her married off quickly, and her mother is so stressed that she frequently must take a tranquilzer. Her younger brother, four-year-old Stuart, is heavily invested in his stuffed bear and relies on Marcy to be a calm and steady influence in his life. After watching Ms. Finney teach and connect with students at school (even asking to play volleyball with the gym class during her free period!), Marcy tries to engage her family in a more positive way, and even gets the nerve to talk to fellow classmate Joel. When a sub appears in language arts, the principal tells the class that Ms. Finney won't be back. Joel's father is on the school board and gets the scoop; Ms. Finney has been fired for refusing to say the Pledge of Allegiance, and for her teaching style in general. The students are angry, but several of them organize a protest and plan on going to the school board. Marcy's dad thinks the teacher is a no-good rabble rouser, but her mother manages to step up and support Marcy, even when she is called in to the principal's office for her part in the protest. The superintendent even shuts down the school for a day. At the board meeting, Ms. Finney's job is reinstated, but she decides to resign because of the lack of support, and goes on to get her graduate degree in bibliotherapy. Marcy, emboldened by her experience as well as by a snazzy purple pantsuit, still fails gym, but manages to stand up to her father and feel more comfortable around Joel and Nancy. 
Strengths: Considering that this is almost fifty years old, it holds up a little better than the work of Judy Blume. It's also better written, with a more defined plot arc as well as more realistic character development. I was a huge Daniziger fan in middle school and enjoyed her humor, but this is unfortunately current in its discussion of a teacher losing her job because of a political stand. While Marcy's homelife is horrible in the way that was fairly common in 1974, I appreciated that she acknowledged her privilege but also pointed out that life can be hard for middle class kids as well. Her relationship with Stuart is very sweet. Her mother is the most interesting character in the book and really tries to see Marcy's point of view. Her habit of always commenting first about what Marcy is wearing is 100% accurate. It's exactly the way my mother acted, and her voice is still very strong in my head. This has some moments typical to the decade, but remains surprisingly readable. 
Weaknesses: This is a vintage Young Adult book, so it reads more like today's middle grade literature, but with kids drinking beer in the basement rec room. Bonus points for Joel for telling Marcy it's cool if she doesn't want to drink beer, and for giving her a peck on the forehead when he drops her home. 
What I really think: If you have a copy of this in your library, dust it off and give to a reader who likes historical fiction or who went to see the movie Are You There God, It's Me Margaret with her mom. 

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Something Maybe Magnificent

Toalson, R.L. Something Maybe Magnificent
May 28, 2024 by Aladdin
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In the summer of 1994, a year after The First Magnificent Summer, Victoria is staying at home with her mother, older brother Jack, and younger sister Maggie because her father has declined having them visit him and his new family. Her mother struggles financially, but owns her own home. Victoria's father hasn't been in contact since their disastrous summer, and hasn't even sent child support, so there's a general lack of clothing and food, something that is occasionally remedied by Meemaw, who drives regularly from Houston to visit and bring junk food. Victoria is still obsessed with writing and reading authors like Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf, and we see her thoughts expressed in poetry and magazine style quizzes as well as her journaling. She has a new hobby, running, and when she is out one morning, meets a neighbor boy her age, Eli. Eli lives with his stepfather, but seems to like him, something that Victoria can't understand. Her own mother has been dating Kyle for a while, and she hates his presence, even though he brings pizza once a week, spends time interacting in a positive way with the children, and even rebuilds the front steps of the house. Victoria enjoys Eli's attention, and frequently runs with him, although she is very busy cleaning the house, making sure her siblings are safe, and trying to conserve the scant food her mother supplies. She also struggles with puberty, and is very angry about it, thinking a lot about the problems that her Visitor causes. When her mother announces that she and Kyle are going to be married in November, Victoria rallies her siblings around her and embarks on a well-thought-out and mean-spirited plan to scare Kyle off, even though he even buys her products to take care of her skin after her use of peroxide on her face accidentally bleaches her bangs. Kyle laughs off most of the pranks, but when Victoria punches him and says she hates him after his dog attacks her dog in an initial meeting of the two, Kyle finally leaves. Will Victoria be able to make peace with the way her family is changing, and realize that her father is never going to reenter the picture, no matter what happens with Kyle?
Strengths: This is a snapshot of how some families operated in the 1990s; tween children were left alone all day in the summer, menstruation wasn't discussed even with one's own mother unless absolutely necessary, and more mental health support was given by Seventeen Magazine than by adults in children's lives. Kyle was actually a VERY understanding boyfriend who made enormous efforts to ingratiate himself with not only Victoria's mother, but also with the children and Meemaw. He was endlessly helpful, and much more positive than the children's father, who was abusive. Kyle even cooked, which was not that usual for the 1990s, and was attentive to the mother. Victoria's relationship with Eli was charming, and I loved that they ran together. There is a happy ending to this one, which definitely lightened the tone after Victoria's detrimental pranks.
Weaknesses: Yes, puberty is awful, but I wish that books would portray it in a more constructive fashion, concentrating of coping strategies rather than diatribes about its ills. Granted, it's probably best not to go back to the time when girls were told cramps were imaginary, but I'd like to see a middle ground in how the subject is portrayed. This comes in at 416 pages, which is a bit long for middle grade. A lot could have been tightened up. 
What I really think: Readers who themselves are interested in the dark and complicated world of Plath or Woolf and who enjoyed the portrayal of struggling blended families in Knisely's Stepping Stones, Torres's The Do-Over, or Leavitt's North of Supernova will be glad to revisit Victoria's troubled 1990s childhood. 

Saturday, May 25, 2024

The Last Apple Tree

Mills, Claudia. The Last Apple Tree
June 4, 2024 by Holiday House
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Sonnet and her mother and younger sister Villie have moved from Colorado back to her mother' hometown of Wakefield, Indiana, after the death of Sonnet's grandmother. Her father left before Villie, who is about five, was born, and her mother has quit her job in insurance, cleaning houses and dedicating herself to writing poetry instead. Gramps is 80, and his health is failing. The grandmother's illness forced him to sell off some of the apple orchards that had been in the family for years, and there is a new housing development that has been built on the property. There is only one apple tree remaining. Sonnet is not terribly happy having to go to 7th grade in a new school, and after meeting neighbor Zeke when her grandfather's cat Moo-Moo gets out of the house, is not impressed with him. Zeke, who spend most of his life being home schooled by his highly opinionated journalist father, is having a hard time fitting in at school. His lack of video games and phone, along with his family's environmentally friendly lifestyle, makes him a little different, and even the one boy he has befriended, Carson, makes fun of him. When their teacher assigns an oral history project, Zeke tells the teacher that he will interview his neighbor, who is of course Sonnet's Gramps. She is angry about this, and insists that they must work together. Gramps is having memory issues, frequently thinking that Sonnet's mother is his wife, Lenore, and is often sad. During one of the interviews, information comes out about a long held family secret. Sonnet investigates, and finds out it is true. This complicates her relationship with Zeke, her mother, and her grandfather. How will she be able to use this information to heal her family and make the most of her grandfather's sunset days?
Strengths: Wakefield is a town like many of us have seen; here in Ohio, there is an Intel chip plant being built in Johnstown, and I'm sure stories similar to Gramps' will happen again and again. Change is hard, and Sonnet is trying her best to regulate the change that occurs. She and Zeke do manage to get along, but are both rather prickly and react against each other accordingly. I really enjoyed Zeke's contentious relationship with his father; there should be more of this in middle grade literature. Not all children are in sync with their parents, and given Zeke's father's strong opinions and social activism, it is not a surprise that he is a bit embarassed by him. The grandfather misses his wife, and the way that the family tragedy was treated makes sense given the time frame. I always enjoy Mills' work, and the cover of this is absolutely beautiful.
Weaknesses: This is more of a character driven story rather than a plot driven one, which won't appeal to readers who want things to explode. Not a problem, just something to keep in mind when recommending the book to readers.
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who want a contemplative title involving a changing landscape, like Perkins' Hope in the Valley, or one dealing with a grandparent who is struggling with the effects of aging and how this affects family dynamics, like Campbell's Rule of Threes or Turley's The Last Tree Town.

Friday, May 24, 2024

The Strange Wonder of Roots

Giffith, Evan. The Strange Wonder of Roots
May 28, 2024 by Quill Tree Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Holly's father is an actor who will travel wherever he needs to go for a part, and her mother and stepfather are taking a cruise. Since there is nowhere else for Holly to go, she is sent to live with her Uncle Vincent for the summer in his small town of Arden Vermont. Uncle Vincent is gay, and has created a strong community for himself in the town, where he runs a bookstore. Holly is a voracious reader who has recently become obsessed with trees, so when she sees that the local Arden grove is supposed to be torn down to make room for the expansion of the local plastic factory that employs most of the residents, she is ready to support her Uncle with his efforts to save it. In her journeys, she meets Lionel, a boy her age is is willing to help out, and the two spend a lot of time meeting with the quirky residents of the town, which include a pet massage business owner. They do a lot of research in the newspaper archives, and find out that the Madisons, who own the plastics factory, destroyed a large part of an Arden forest to build the first factory, which is why there are so few remaining trees. The trees are not doing well, and when Holly contacts scientists, she manages to convince some to come and study what might be killing the trees. She and Lionel also find that there was as Arden festival, last held in 1958, and plan to resurrect it. It's a lot of work, and when Holly finds out secrets about one of her collaborators, and a local newspaper attacks her for causing trouble even though she is not from Arden, she's ready to go back home to her mother. Will she be able to put down her own roots as well as save the grove?
Strengths: As someone who owned a copy of a tree identification book until the glue petrified and all the pages fell out, I'm a big fan of students who want to study and identify trees. Holly's life has been full of moves and separation, so it is understandable that she would enjoy becoming part of the life of a small, quirky town, especially since her uncle is a constant and reassuring presence. I'm also a fan of Kids Doing Things, so Holly's attempts to save the grove, and her measured and sensible approach to research and organizing, definitely appealed to me. There is a good amount of scientific information about trees, and the environmental message is strong. Lionel is a good foil for Holly's activities, and his presence also adds an element of surprise to the plot. Secondary characters are well developed and engaging, and add some fun and quirkiness to the Arden setting.
Weaknesses: This was a bit on the slow side, and I got distracted by Holly's prescription toothpaste that her mother had sent to her. I felt like I was missing more backstory about that small element. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who enjoyed this author's Manatee Summer,  Guillory's Nowhere Better Than Here, Helget's The End of the Wild, King's Me and Marvin Gardens, or McDunn's When Sea Becomes Sky.

Thursday, May 23, 2024

The Boo Hag Flex (Tales from Cabin 23)

Ireland, Justina. The Boo Hag Flex (Tales from Cabin 23)
May 14, 2024 by Balzer + Bray
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

There are strange things happening at Camp Apple Hill Farm, as unhappy camper Elaina learns. She's so homesick that she doesn't join her easygoing bunkmate Tiffany at evening activities, but stays behind in the cabin with her counselor, Taylor. When there's a knock at the door, Eliana sees Taylor disappear into the fog. She follows, and soon finds herself at Cabin 23, where she meets an older Black woman who is a witch and tells her that she can either battle the fog, which is hungry, or listen to a story. Eliana chooses the story.

Tasha's mother has passed away from COVID, and she finds herself being moved from Savannah to rural Georgia. She hasn't met her father, John, before, but he assures her that she'll be fine with him and his mother, Ms. Washington, in their trailer home in the Shady Pines park. Tasha, who is a big reader, is glad to see that there is an extensive library in the trailer, and starts reading her grandmother's books on myths and legends. When a neighbor dies, Tasha meet a white girl her own age, Ellie, who offers her popsicles and a tantalizing local legend; Ellie believes there is a boo hag on the loose, and it's eating not only neighborhood small animals, but the neighbors themselves! Tasha believes this, because she saw an upsetting glimpse of the neighbor's damaged arm as he was hustled into the ambulance, and has also seen the maggot ridden corpse of his cat. Tasha not only has to deal with "murder ghosts" in her new home, but her father's frequent absences. His new girlfriend, Kim, seems very nice; she's a seamstress who also loves to read, and the two spend quality time together, bonding over the fact that they both lost their mothers when young. When another neighbor, Ms. Greta, has some injuries, and her small dog is missing, the girls decide is is time to act. After Ms. Greta passed away, the boo hag comes perilously close to home, and Ellie and Tasha must think quickly to preserve Tasha's new living arrangements. Will they be able to turn the forces of evil away from the Shady Pines Trailer Park?

This ends with Elaina going back to her cabin, but not much else is said about the camp.

Strengths: Aside from the rather frightening boo hag, who drains people's life force before killing them, this has the additional scary element of a parent passing away. To make that even more traumatic, Tasha has to go live with a father she doesn't know. He seems nice at first, but is so absent and uncaring that Tasha even warns Kim not to marry him, even though she would love to have her warm and caring presence in her life. The grandmother is very steady in her support and understanding of Tasha's state, and it's good to see that Tasha is able to make a friend; boo hags are not a force you want to have to fight alone. For my readers, the low level blood and gore of the injuries and dead pets, as well as the description of putrid odors, will be a big sell. Scary camp stories usually circulate well, so it will be interesting to see how the camp will be brought into further tales.
The packaging of this is a bit odd; the cover makes this look like it is marketed to upper elementary school students, but I'm not sure how the writhing maggots will go over with 3rd-5th graders. I'm curious to see what further volumes do with the camp setting. Alkaf's Tales from Cabin 23: Night of the Living Head comes out in August 2023, and the cover does seem more middle grade.
What I really think: This was a fairly scary story that took some twists and turns that I saw coming, but that might surprise young readers. Hand this to readers who enjoyed culturally connected scary stories like Fournet's Brick Dust and Bones, Smith's Hoodoo, Royce's Root Magic, or this author's Ophie's Ghosts. I'll buy a copy, and see how well it does with fans of P.J. Night's Creepover books, which have some similarities in cover design and formatting.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Tilted Sky

Emei, Yao and Zhang, Emily (trans.) Tilted Sky 
May 7, 2024 by Levine Querido
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Bai Jian is eleven, and is being raised in China by his father, Hei Jian. His mother abandoned hiim when he was very young, and he was raised for a while by his grandmother, until she passed away. Hei Jian was in college when Bai Jian's mother, Jie, got pregnant, and has had trouble keeping jobs. There is rarely enough money, and the two often eat nothing but noodles or rice, even though there seems to be enough money for alcohol. The father also has trouble staying in relationships, although his last girlfriend, Jing, was very kind to Bai Jian. When the father doesn't have the school fees, Bai Jian is sad that he can't go to school, but when he finally starts, he is worried that his father is leaving him at a boarding school. When students are supposed to leave for the weekend, he's told to go to Jing's. This works for a while, since Jing is truly fond of him, but she is looking to move on, and is dating men who don't necessarily want to deal with an eleven year old boy. He makes contact with his mother, who isn't quite sure what to do with him. Over Christmas, his father goes on holiday with his new girlfriend, Wei, Jie is not home, and Bai Jian catches Jing and her new boyfriend just as they are also heading out. He manages to stay in Jing's apartment by himself for an entire week, eating ramen and spending most of his days playing games in an internet cafe. When Jing comes back, she is so upset that she says she will see if she can adopt Bai Jian. When school fees are due again, Bai Jian is forced to get money from the aunt who is living in his grandmother's old house, as well as from Jie. Jing is engaged to marry a blind man who is working at a massage clinic. Bai Jian is enthralled, and asks to have an apprenticeship there. His unsettled life continues as his father gets a job traveling and working on films. Will he ever have the warm bed, full stomach, and stability afforded to the other children are his school?
Strengths: I'm a huge fan of books that are translated from other languages and show what daily life is like in other countries; what better way to find out how children in other countries live? There are good details about the various dwellings and food, and Bai Jian's school. Bai Jian's predicament of not having anyone care for him, and of being severely neglected, might resonate with readers who want to feel better about their own life situations. 
Weaknesses: This had several f-bombs, and the language definitely felt more adult, which perhaps just shows a cultural difference. Several phrases strike me as ones that wouldn't appear in a US publication: Bai Jian talks about how people at his school call him a "girly wimp" and at one point opines that he wouldn't have chosen to give birth to a baby under the circumstances his parents had him but "would have strangled him to death" first! There is also not a lot that happens, except for the horrible back and forth as the adults in Bai Jian's life try to pawn him off on someone else. 
What I really think: This reminded me strongly of Tanaka's 2012 Nobody Knows in the horrible circumstances that Bai Jian has to struggle through. I wish there had been another plot in addition to Bai Jian's struggles to find a home, and more details about ordinary, every day life. This did make me wonder that perhaps some Chinese child rearing methods are even more concerning than British ones! 

Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Fantasy Round Up

Beck, Miya T. Through a Clouded Mirror
May 28, 2024 by Balzer + Bray
E ARC provided Netgalley

Yuki Snow moves to Santa Dolores, leaving behind her best friend Julio. Yuki's father passed away, but was a professor who taught philosophy classes based on Alice in Wonderland and put together a poetry event for the local schools. Yuki's mother, Hana, has remarried a kind man named Doug, who gets Yuki a "magic mirror" with a tiger on it from a local store. She is so enthralled with it that she visits the shop to buy one for Julio, and meets the owner, Momo Fujita, who tells her the story of Sei Shōnagon, famous poet and author of The Pillow Book. Since Yuki is also fond of making lists, she is intrigued, and interviews Ms. Fujita for a school project, spending some time in the shop. When Yuki has a falling out with Julio, she has to deal with a mean teacher, Ms. Ghosh, and she finds out that her mother is pregnant at 41, Yuki escapes into the magical world of the mirror, where she meets Sei Shōnagon and finds out that even though she is from the Land of A Merry Cat, she is in the running to become the next priestess of poetry.
This was an interesting twist on Japanese folklore and would be a good choice for readers who enjoy portal fantasies like Bedard's The Egyptian Mirror, Giles's The Last Mirror on the Left, or Abu-Jaber's Silverworld.

Brosgol, Vera. Plain Jane and the Mermaid.
May 7, 2024 by First Second
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Interesting mash up of a lot of oceanic folklore; selkies, evil mermaids, shipwrecks, and more. There's also several strong social messages, made even more pronounced by the Victorian setting. I can see readers who enjoyed Ostow's The Girl From the Sea liking this one. Pick this one up if you like Brosgol's style in Be Prepared

From the Publisher:
Jane is incredibly plain. Everyone says so: her parents, the villagers, and her horrible cousin who kicks her out of her own house. Determined to get some semblance of independence, Jane prepares to propose to the princely Peter, who might just say yes to get away from his father. It’s a good plan!

Or it would’ve been, if he wasn’t kidnapped by a mermaid.

With her last shot at happiness lost in the deep blue sea, Jane must venture to the underwater world to rescue her maybe-fiancé. But the depths of the ocean hold beautiful mysteries and dangerous creatures. What good can a plain Jane do? 

Weinberger, Justin. Dead in the Water (Zombie Season #2)
May 7, 2024 by Scholastic Press
E ARC Provided by Edelweiss Plus

After their adventures in Zombie Season, Ollie Wachs and his sister Kirby are staying with their parents in a college dorm, so feel a little more secture. When he hears from Regina, who needs his help, he convinces his aunt to take him and his friends back to Redwood. There, he meets up with Regina and finds that she wants him to help her hide a zombie, Nix, for a couple of days! The kids have uncovered more evil doings by HumaniTeam and are trying to get proof against them lined up. In Alaska, the zombies have arrived, and they're not just any zombies: they are giant zombies that have been made stronger, and the kids fear that the new and improved weapon, the Cloudbuster, will not destroy the zombies, but empower them. Anton, whose cousin Alek was killed in a zombie attack, manages to work his way to California and meets up with the group. Jeule is in New York, but when zombies attack a beach there, she also makes her way to Redwood. Regina's mom takes control of Project Cloudburst, and Nix becomes a pawn in the struggle between HumaniTeam and other forces. There is sure to be a third book in the series, as Nix needs to be rescued before he is once again subjected to intrusive testing. 

This is a great zombie adventure, but I was not feeling zombies when I read it. There is some sort of video game attached to this online, so has that 39 Clues element. It also has a paper over board cover. 

Cooper, Abby. True Colors
May 7, 2024 by Astra Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Mackenzie has long dealt with the fact that she radiates colors that mirror her emotions, and when she was made fun of for that, her parents moved the family to Serenity, where everyone has to be nice to one another all the time and consistently happy. Since it's clear with Mackenzie is not in a good mood, she starts to struggle in Serenity as well, especially when other people in the town of 1,000 start to also have mood colored auras. When Stella Scott arrrives in the town with her two children, Rayna and Benny, tensions start to mount in the idyllic community. This is a great choice for fans of Haydu's Eventown,  Redman's Quintessence, or Collins' The Town with No Mirrors. I think Serenity sounds like a great place. The problem with all of these dystopias seems to be that the children are forced to live in them by their parents, and they are not young enough to appreciate how nice it would be if everyone just kept their thoughts to themselves and were polite. This is on trend with the current philosophy that it is "okay to not be okay". I found Mackenzie's descriptions of the colors of the auras (and there were a lot of them) a little confusing. 

Monday, May 20, 2024

MMGM- Capitol Chase

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 
Landis, Matthew. Capitol Chase (National Archive Hunters #1)
May 14, 2024 by Pixel+Ink
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Twins Ike and Iris Carter are very different. Ike is a huge history buff, and Iris is a select athlete. Both get along with their parents; ex-Army dad works in security at the children's Montessor school, K Street Academy, and their mother is in charge of the small Americana museum. The family, who lives in Foggy Bottom, often does training runs on the Rock Creek Trail at 5 a.m. to the Lincoln Memorial and are very supportive of the mother's work. When she has a new installation, Fashion of the Founders, Ike and Iris both help out, circulating hors d'oeuvres while the father tries to cover security. When checking out the miniature display, Iris sees a girl acting suspiciously, and when she breaks the glass and steals a miniature of George Washington. Hoping to be able to catch the girl, the twins take after her, but are unable to catch her due to a man in spandex who slams into them. The miniature is not worth much, so Ike suspects that the thief is trying to amass a collection. They consult with Ruby, who works at the National Archives Research Center where their mother has taken a part time job. They get some good information, and when they suspect that another theft will occur, they go with their mother on a trip she takes to Philadelphia to try to shore up the poor reputation of the Americana. They again run into the girl, who manages to steal a ring that had belonged to Alexander Hamilton. Since they are present at a second robbery, they are questioned by the FBI. It looks bad, and they retain Stu, a lawyer who operates out of a deli. He tells them not to answer questions without him. When Ike and Iris find out that a French book is going to be viewed in Boston, they think it is the net item that will be stolen. They try to stop this heist, are unable to, and are now in BIG trouble. Their names are all over the news, and their mother is fired. Not only has Ike worked out that there is a French connection to American history, and determined what items are likely to be targets, but he has even figured out the most likely culprit. It's not someone who wants to steal things, although she is quite good at it, and there seems to be an evil organization involving Cincinnatus behind the plot. Will Ike and Iris be able to catch the thief, retrieve the items, and somehow manage to save the Americana museum so their mother can keep her job? 

I'm a big fan of a good art heist, like Salane's Lawless, Wells' Eddie Red, McLean's  Catch Us if You Can (Jewel Society#1), Ponti's Framed! A T.O.A.S.T. Mystery,or Carter's Heist Society, and this does have a decided National Treasure feel to it that even Ike and Iris acknowledge. There haven't been as many new spy and heist books as I need lately, so it was great to see this one. 

It's also very clear that Landis knows his history. He's a social studies teacher who clearly has a good sense of humor and knows how to engage kids. He's also invented an interesting small museum, the Americana, which the Carter family is quite attached to. There is a lot of Revolutionary War history conveyed through the artifacts, and even more about the various repositories of artifacts that was fascinating. Ruby is a fabulous character, and so knowledgeable that I was pretty sure at several points that SHE might be the thief. (Is she? I won't tell.)

There's plenty of action and adventure, and the Carter's training with their ex-military father comes in handy. One of the things that I enjoyed the most was the fact that they got in trouble with the FBI and got a lot of negative press. I've read a lot of stories where children are in the wrong place at the wrong time, but any repercussions always seem to magically go away. The fact that Ike and Iris had to prove that they weren't the thieves tickled me and also moved the plot along quickly. 

I wasn't as big a fan of the kids' personalities and attitudes, but that might be because I have to deal with similar sassiness from middle school students every day. Ike's mother knows that he has a tendency to talk down to people and to be rather brusque, and even punishes him for it. I'm hoping that as the series continues and the twins identify and fight against Cincinnatus that they both grow as characters. 

Like Gibbs' Spy School series, this involves parents, which I always find delightful. With mom's antiquities skills, you know they won't be putting lemon juice on the back of the Constitution to look for clues, and when we find out more about dad's army service, I see a lot of opportunities for connections from the past to surface, some of whom might have access to exciting forms of transportation or secret locations. I would be all for a return visit to Camp David, which I first got to visit in Garretson's Wildfire Run and could have imagined a great chase scene in The Cozy Restaurant, which sadly closed in 2014. This is a fantastic title to have to encourage middle grade readers to understand the impact on history on the present day. 

Sunday, May 19, 2024


Gow, Robin. Gooseberry.
May 14, 2024 by Amulet Books
E ARC provided by Netgalley

**Slight spoiler in What I Really Think* 

 B has been in foster care since the age of five, when their parents died, and has struggled to find a permanent placement. Currently, they are living with Mandy and Rick, who "smell like chicken broth and dead roses" and do not always correctly gender B, who identifies as non-binary. At a block party, B sees rescue dog Gooseberry, and is immediately drawn to him, being very emotional when told that there is no way the family can adopt a dog. After the foster parents return B to Haven House, a group home, B is placed with Eri (who is trans) and Jodi, a lesbian couple who are very understanding. Despite a rough start with B, who also evidences some neurodivergent qualities, they decide to adopt Gooseberry. Gooseberry has been traumatized, is very leery of humans, and spends a lot of time under the kitchen table. Despite this, and despite being told by Eri and Jodi to give Gooseberry the kind of space that B themselves often wants, B is obsessed with training Gooseberry so that he can be a service dog who visits Haven House. Gooseberry does not do well with the training. While living in his new foster home goes fairly well, school is still a struggle. B has a good group of friends, including Clementine, who uses ze/zero pronouns, but is also made fun of frequently by Cody and Zane, who pick on just about every aspect of B's personality. The teacher tells B to ignore them. Eri and Jodi don't like that, and offer to call Cody and Zane's parents, but also suggest that perhaps B should pick out a name to help solidify their identity. A crisis occurs when the class is on a camping trip, and Jodi brings Gooseberry. Gooseberry runs away, as he has been wont to do, and B reconciles a bit with Cody when the two are helping to find the dog. Will B be able to choose a name for themselves and remain at their new home?
Strengths: It is good to see a variety of experiences in foster care, since this is something that an increasing number of students are seeing or living. The inclusion of a rescue dog, and a description of his plight, was interesting, especially since B wanted to train Gooseberry as a service dog to visit the Haven House. The LGBTQIA+ representation was well done, and the problems B faces definitely occur in some settings. There's a happy ending.
Weaknesses: While it was good to see that Eri and Jodi wanted B to be happy, there was not enough consideration given to Gooseberry's well being. B was not kind to the dog, did not respect the dog's boundaries, and repeatedly endangered the animal. It seemed hard to believe that Jodi would bring the Gooseberry to the camping trip, having witnessed how poorly B read signals from the dog. This reminded me a bit of Arnold's A Boy Called Bat, where Bat really wants to keep a skunk as a pet even though it is not the best environment for the skunk.
What I really think: It was completely apparent to me that B was on the autism spectrum, given the description of the emotional states B experiences, but there is no official diagnosis until the end of the book. This is a good choice for readers who enjoyed Riley's Jude Saves the World or Taylor's Starting from Scratch.

Saturday, May 18, 2024

#MGLit Theme: Water!

Tracy, Taylor. Murray Out of Water
May 21, 2024 by Quill Tree Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Murray lives with her parents, baby brother Sean, older sister Kelly, and the shadow of older brother Patrick, who doesn't speak to the family, in Lavalette, New Jersey, along the shore. She loves being in the water, and seems to feel she has magic that can control the water and help her save creatures from it. Her mother doesn't understand why she wants to be a marine biologist, and hopes that she will be a doctor or lawyer, even though her grades are mediocre. When a massive storm approaches, the family evacuates inland to stay with an aunt and uncle from who they are estranged due to the circumstances with Patrick. The family is welcoming, especially older cousin Laura, who has a funky sense of fashion and wants to be called Blake and use they/them pronouns. Murray is worried about this, mainly because her mother is very religious, and is critical even of Murray's desire to read Stonewall Honor books. After the storm is over, the family finds out that their home is badly damaged, and they will have to rebuild. Kelly decides to go back home and live with a friend, and the mother and father are taking baby Sean to stay in an apartment the father has for his work. Patrick has reconnected with the family tentatively, since he was checking in with the aunt and uncle during the storm. The father seems glad, but the mother is still not happy, as the fact that Patrick is gay doesn't align with her values. Murray enjoys being with her aunt and uncle, even though she misses the sea, and makes a friend at her new school, CJ Hooker Middle School. Dylan is bullied by the other students, but the two enjoy being at the local roller rink, where the owner is supportive of all of the teens and tweens who come there to skate and practice roller derby. Murray starts to realize that she doesn't like to dress in the girly way her mother makes her, but Dylan would like to wear dresses. This conversation leads to a drag show at the roller rink. Will Murray be able to live her own authentic life while keep ing the peace with her parents?
Strengths: This was an interesting novel in verse that addresses the problem of being forced out of one's home by a natural disaster, and the author's note that this was based on Superstorm Sandy was intriguing. Murray is a very typical tween who is both wanting to please her parents but also rebelling against their unreasonable stances on many issues. Her aunt and uncle, along with her cousin, are more supportive, and it was good to see that Patrick also had support from family members even if he didn't have it from his parents. The local skating rink was a fun setting, and the LGBTQIA+ community shows the importance of found families.
Weaknesses: There was a lot going on in this book, and it would have been a fine story without the magic, which seemed to take me out of the story a bit and was confusing. For the record, the name of the school has nothing to do with TJ Hooker, the 1980s police drama with William Shatner.
What I really think: This will be a popular book with the fans of the work of Lisa Bunker, A.J. Sass, and Kyle Luckoff.

Manzer, Jenny. Picture a Girl
May 14, 2024 by Orca Book Publishers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Adelaide and her brother Billabong live on the coast of the Pacific Ocean where their mother is very invested in surfing, hence their names. Addie and Billy often have to take care of themselves, since their mother often self-medicates with alcohol when depressed and their father lives in Australia. The three live in a small rental cottage in a tourist community, and their mother finds enough work waitressing or working in other service industry jobs to support them, but they still have to shop at thrift stores and get food from the Food share pantry. Addie hopes that she can register for a local surfing contest and win the big prize to help out her family, and her friend Pokey, who has a supportive home environment, tries to help her out with this. When the mother goes "off for a little adventure" so she can return briefly to being "Jeanie Bean, girl surfer", Addie and Billy have to take care of themselves. Addie is injured during the surfing competition, their landlord demands payment, and Addie's teachers are concerned about her. When her mother returns, will anything change? 

This had some similarities to Walter's The King of the Jam Sandwiches and Rudd's How to Stay Invisible, and included some interesting things about British Columbia surfing culture that I hadn't seen before. This author also wrote My Life as a Diamond.

Wolo, Mamle. Flying through Water
May 14, 2024 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Sena has a fairly stable life in Ghana. He lives with his mother, sister, and brother, and well as his grandfather, who loves to tell stories. He goes to school, and is stressing about his exams, especially when his grandfather's health worsens. Sena's friend, Bright, has despaired of school and decides to take a job fishing some miles away. Sena, missing his grandfather and concerned that his continued education will cause hardship for his family, decides to run away and join his friend. When he gets to Volta Lake where the boys will work, he is dismayed to find abysmal living conditions, very poor food, and an abusive environment. Being in the water and fixing boats leaves his skin open to wounds and infections, and he sometimes halluncinates and thinks he sees the spirit Mami Wata. When a tragedy occurs, Sena gathers his resolve and swims away from the overseers. He manages to make himself a small shelter and gather food for himself, which is a better life than he had fishing. He would like to get back home, and when he sees men from the Ghana Wildlife manatee protection unit, they help him. He finds out that the men who hired him and Bright to fish were human traffickers, and that what he thought was Mami Wata was actually a manatee. 

Like this author's The Kaya Girl, this is an interesting look at life in Ghana, and when Sena is living on his own, reminded me a bit of George's My Side of the Mountain

Friday, May 17, 2024

Linus and Etta Could Use a Win and With Just One Wing

Huntoon, Caroline. Linus and Etta Could Use a Win
May 7, 2024 by Macmillan Publishers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Linus and his family have moved from New York to Ohio to be near his grandmother, who is getting older and need support. He is apprehensive about his new school, but glad for a fresh start. He has recently come out as trans, and was tired of answering questions that people had. At his new school, he can just be himself. On the first day, he meets the outspoken Etta, who has died her hair green and wears black nail polish. Her former best friend, Marigold, accuses her of being "anti everything", but Etta is just tired of middle school and looking forward to next year, when she hopes to get into the Nova alternative high school. When Marigold points out that she'll need extra curriculars, Etta brags that she could get anyone elected to a student council position, and Marigold dares her to get Linus elected. Linus is struggling with having to see his grandmother twice a week; his dead name is the same as his grandmother's, and she is unwilling to see Linus as a boy. Wanting to make his only friend happy, he agrees to run. Eventually, the fact that he is trans is shared, and Etta is okay with this fact, even though she doesn't react to it in an optimal way. She's more upset by the fact that Linus is friendly with Marigold. After he is even more friendly with Marigold at a party, that fact that Marigold dared Etta to get Linus elected comes out. Will the two be able to repair their friendship, and will Linus use the platform of student council to promote LGBTQIA+ acceptance at his new school.
Strengths: This addresses the issue of transitioning in a way similar to Salazar's The More and More or medina's The One Who Loves You Most; those are the only two I can think of that address boys getting periods, as well as the use of chest binders. Although Etta is prickly, and is very hurt by her friendship with Marigold coming to an end, she has a good heart, and welcomes Linus to the school. Linus' parents are very supportive, and his grandmother eventually comes around. There is other diversity as well; Linus' friend Olive in New York has two fathers, and there is a math teacher, Mx. B., who identifies as non-binary.
Weaknesses: I always have trouble with books that feature school elections, and found it odd that the school would state that there would be two girls and two boys elected to serve as 8th grade representatives. Middle grade books also seem to have more school assemblies than I have ever seen; my school doesn't have its own auditorium, so that only assemblies we have are twice a year behavior assemblies, and pep assemblies.
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who enjoyed Gino's Green, Polonsky's Gracefully Grayson (which came out in 2014!), or Riley's Jude Saves the World, but also would like the intrigue of middle school politics and elections.

Woods, Brenda. With Just One Wing
May 14, 2024 by Nancy Paulsen Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss

Coop was left at a hospital as an infant under the Safe Haven law, and was adopted into a loving family. His father plays trombone with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and his mother is spending the summer in San Francisco teaches piano at the university level. Coop spends a lot of time with his Nona and G-Pop, and enjoys being able to see his friend Zandi, who lives nearby. There is a nest of mockingbirds that G-Pop and the kids are watching. Once the eggs hatch and most of the birds leave the nest, there is still one bird remaining. Coop climbs the tree to investigate, but falls from the tree and breaks his arm. Later, they realize that the bird has not left the next because it only has one wing. They manage to get the bird down and keep it safe, feeding it every 45 minutes with an eyedropper. It's against the law to keep wild birds, so they find a rehabilitation facility willing to take the bird, whom they name Hop. Coop, however, feels sympathy for the animal and doesn't want to abandon him the way that he was abandoned, but knows that the bird needs friends who can help him learn to sing. He runs away to visit the facility on his own, and finally makes peace not only with giving up Hop, but with the fact that his birth mother faced a similar difficult decision and did what she thought was best.

Woods always manages to work music into her books in a very interesting way, like in her Saint Louis Armstrong Beach or When Winter Robeson Came. This also reminded me a little of Williams-Garcia's Clayton Byrd Goes Underground, with the bus adventure to the bird sanctuary. There were also good details about taking care of wild animals properly.

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Spy Ring and Puzzleheart

Durst, Sarah Beth. Spy Ring
May 21, 2024 by Clarion Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus


Rachel and her best friend Joon are eleven, and live in Setauket, Long Island, New York. Rachel's mother is planning on marrying her boyfriend, who has been living with them for a year, and whom Rachel likes. Rachel and Joon have recently been obsessed with the Culper Ring during the Revolutionary War, and have been practicing their spying just like Anna "Nancy" Smith Strong, a local woman long thought to be the first woman spy for George Washingon. When they eavesdrop on Rachel's mom and Dave, they hear them talking about a silver ring that Dave wants to give Rachel so she feels included in their wedding, even though they haven't asked very much for her input. The ring apparently belonged to Nancy, even though it doesn't have enough provenance for the local museum to accept it. Rachel is so excited by this prospect that she and Joon rifle through her mother's things, find the ring, and clean it up. There is an inscription in it that says "find me", and the two decide that this must lead to a treasure, which would come in handy, since Joon's father has lost his job and the family is looking for affordable housing, most of which is located hours away from Setauket. They start at the local cemetary, where they find Nancy's tombstone and decipher a clue that gives them "stone". From there, they go to Patriot's Rock, see a 300 year old church, and inquire there. A woman suggests they look at the mural in their school, and the janitor kindly lets them in and helps them determine where Devil's Rock is. Later, looking at the local mill, they find numbers in the millstones on the ground around the 1930s reproduction. They get info from the library, and also from Linda, an elderly docent at the local museum. They even manage to get a key from an antique clock by setting it to the time 3:55! The portrait they saw at the library of Nancy and her husband gives them more clues, and the kids eventually have to ask Dave for help. He calls family members who have Nancy's family Bible, and by using a blow dryer on the pages, uncover another clue. This takes them to the attic, where Terry, who has not been happy with having kids wandering around historic sites, helps them uncover a box in the steeple of the church. Will this box hold the treasure? And will it help provide a way for Joon's family to stay?
Strengths: Ah, summer. Wouldn't it be great to have a day to bike around a picturesque portion of Long Island with your best friend and solve a 250 year old mystery about a strong and courageous woman who never got her due? Rachel and Joon do just that. All of the places in the book are based on really places in Setauket, where the author lives. There's clearly a lot of love for the area, as well as for local history in the writing. As someone who was eleven during the US Bicentennial, this story reminded me very strongly of the books and articles in Cricket Magazine that were prevalent at the time. Youngsters were always investigating historical events and finding out information that 200 years of adults couldn't uncover. This also had a bit of the feel of some 1950s series books set on the East Coast (which seemed VERY exotic to my Ohio sensibilities!) where kids would roam around the historic sites and sandy shoreline solving mysteries with the help of friendly old people. This is perfect summer reading for a rising fourth grader, but be prepared for a lot of pleas to travel to Setauket and the East Coast to see more Revolutionary War history.
Weaknesses: As an adult, it stretched my credulity that the children were able to intuit all of these clues so quickly, but as a youngster, I would have believed it completely.
What I really think: This is a bit of a departure from Durst's fantasy books, but is a great exploration of little known US history that will appeal to readers who enjoyed Gutman's Flashback Four or Beil's The Swallowtail Legacy. It would make a great read aloud to go along with a Revolutionary War curriculum. 

Reese, Jenn. Puzzleheart
May 14, 2024 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Perigee and her father are traveling to visit her estranged grandmother, Savannah Ecklund, who lives in the puzzle house that she built with her husband, Herbert. After he died suddenly when Perigee's father was young, Savannah sent her son to live with relatives because she was so consumed with grief. Perigee hopes that by bringing their father to visit, it will help him with his depression after losing his job and reconnect him with his mother. The house on Enigma Lane was supposed to be open to the public, and never was, so the puzzles Savannah and Herbert had planned never got to be operated. Savannah is in the house with Lily, whom she is watching while Lily's mother is doing search and rescue training, and the two have to sleep in the library because the rest of the house is so dangerous. Lily and Perigee are determined to solve the puzzle and make the house safe, but the House is not happy, and we hear from it in alternating chapters. The two children are able to find some coins that operate some of the puzzles, like a waterfall behind glass, but get lost in some of the secret passages, which is dangerous. They make some good progress, but Savannah is not happy at all, and threatens to raze the house because she wants to be left alone. This hurts the House's feelings, which makes things more dangerous. Will Perigee and Lily be able to solve the puzzle and reconcile Perigee's father and grandmother?
Strengths: Perigee's desire to help their father and reunite their family is admirable, and the idea of a puzzle house is enthralling. The details of the house are endlessly fascinating, and I sort of want a wooden puzzle version of the house to make, complete with tiny squirrel statues! Lily is a good foil for Perigee, and willing to go along with all of the plans while having ideas of her own. This has a happy ending, which is not always the case when a sentient House is angry with you.
Weaknesses: I always have a hard time believing that parents are so affected by grief that they abandon living children who need them, but I suppose it does happen. The father's depression is hinted at, but since it affects Perigee so much, more details about how the two deal with this might have been instructional for younger readers.
What I really think: This is very similar to Currie's The Mystery of the Locked Rooms (4/2/24), which had a puzzle house that had long been abandoned until children break in and solve the puzzles. This will be a big hit with fans of this author's Every Bird a Prince and A Game of Fox & Squirrels or books with sentient houses like Funaro's Watch Hollow or Josephson's Ravenfall.