Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Future is Now
When a science class was leaving the library yesterday, the teacher instructed the students to do the following when they returned to the classroom:

"Grab a Chrome Book and log onto I'll put your PIN on the white board."

When I was in 8th grade, circa 1978, this entire sentence would have been gobbledygook. 

It makes me want to construct sentences to say to my students using outdated phrasing that they won't understand. 

"Hang up the phone and grab some whole milk or Tang from the ice box; I'll stack these records on the Hi-Fi while we alphabetize your index cards so we can type your bibliography on the typewriter."

At least I'm wearing a granny square vest my daughter crocheted, so I LOOK as incomprehensible as I'll SOUND!

#WNDB Wednesday- Sara, Lost and Found

25691849Castelman, Virginia. Sara, Lost and Found
February 9th 2016 by Aladdin
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Sara and her sister Anna have gone more than a week without their father returning home. In desperation, Sara steals a roll of paper towels from a convenience store in order to have something to eat that will quell the hunger pangs the girls feel. When their caseworker, Mrs. Craig, knocks on their door with a policeman the girls panic and run out of the house, ending up at Ben and Rachel Silverman's. The Silvermans have kept the girls for short periods before, so get them warm and clean. Anna has some problems relating to others, and tends to bite and hit if someone touches her, so Sara is worried when the girls are placed temporarily with a doctor and his family. The girls do well there, and even find a stray cat to have as a pet, but the family is moving to South America. For their next placement, Anna is sent to a residential treatment facility, and Sara is sent to the Chandlers, in the same neighborhood where she and Anna found the cat. This time, things go fairly well. Sara makes a friend in Lexi, gets tutored in reading at the library by Ben, and gets some psychological counseling. She and Lexi even make a small local news splash by starting a program to place stray cats at senior care facilities. Eventually, her father ends up in jail, and is taken to court to surrender his parental rights so that Sara can be adopted by the Chandlers. 

The author mentions that she was put in an orphanage when she was young, and this personal experience add a poignant authenticity to Sara's struggles. While Sara faces difficulties, and her placements don't always go smoothly, there is some hope in her life, and people who try to do what is right for her. This doesn't gloss over the fact that sometimes, placements don't go well; Anna has been abused at a home when she was separated from Sara. 

For some reason, books about abused children are popular reads for older middle grade readers; perhaps reading such things makes their own experience seem much better. For readers of Hunt's One for the Murphy's, Connor's Waiting for Normal or Dowell's Where I'd Like to Be, Castleman's nuanced portrayal of a girl navigating life without her parents will be a sad but interesting book to pick up. 

This is not a great cover, though. This book was published earlier by Archway, and that cover gives a little more insight into the contents of the book. 

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Baker's Magic

26807978Zahler, Diane. Baker's Magic
February 1st 2016 by Capstone Young Readers
E ARC from

Bee has been orphaned when both of her parents were killed in a shipwreck. She survived, and is cared for by foster parents who are unkind. She eventually runs away, and eventually ends up in Aradyn at the bakery of Mr. Bouts. She tries to steal a bun but is tripped by Wil and caught. She is so starved and pathetic that the local citizens take pity on her. Bouts hires her as his apprentice, and Wil, the son of a blacksmith, becomes her fast friend. Bee proves an apt baker, and her moods tend to be baked right into her pastries. When Master Joris, the city mage and the guardian of the orphaned princess Annika, wants to try the bakery's products, Bee is sent to the palace to deliver them. She finds the palace to be rather decrepit, but makes friends with Annika. Eventually, the two realize that Joris (who has killed all of the trees in the kingdom to make room for tulips) is trying to marry Annika off to a much older king in order to have the kingdom for himself. Annika runs away with the help of Bee and Wil, and the three have quite an adventure. They not only find out secrets about the heritage of the girls, but they discover environmental problems caused by Joris, even though they also find some solutions. Add help from a pirate ship with a fiesty female Captain, an adorable per hedgehog, and a happy ending, and this was a very fun read!

Strengths: Bee had a hard life, but found kind people to help her. The descriptions of the buns as well as the clean clothing and soft bed were heart felt and wonderful. I loved how she had the power to bake her emotions into pastries. The friendships were all solid and helpful. The twists about the parentage of the girls was good as well. Had a vaguely Dutch, 1600-1700s feel, so very standard fantasy setting.
Weaknesses: This started to lose me a bit when they found the island and tried to move it back to the kingdom. There was plenty going on before that. 

What I really think: This was such an enormous relief to read. Only happy surprises, parents returning from the dead instead of dying, magical tarts... sigh. Must purchase. My readers love happy stories and anything to do with baking!

At first, I was disappointed that the cover wasn't in the same gorgeous style as the other covers of this author's books, but the plain blue one will no doubt make it easier to get boys to pick up this book, since it has plenty of adventure. 


Monday, February 08, 2016

Happy 10th Blogiversary

My first ever blog post was on 16th February, 2006, but the Cybils Awards announcement of the winners is 14th February, so we're celebrating early.

Why I started a blog is lost in the mists of time. I think I took a class where it was suggested; it seemed like a good way to be able to remember all of the books as I read through the hardcover fiction in the library. I was at the "M"s in 2006, and finished in 2011, just in time for my fifth anniversary. 

I always wished I had a better blog name!

This isn't the "sexiest" blog-- I don't do giveaways or interviews or talk about what's going on in the library. I'm not good with Twitter or Instagram or Facebook, and the Podcast experiment left me cold. 

I read as many of the books as I can; I opine. I base these opinions on interactions with actual tween readers. I try to be honest about whether or not I like a book, but also about whether or not my students will. Sometimes this is two different things. 

For now, this is enough. You want to know about books, scan my posts once a week. It's like reading a dozen or more books without the time commitment. 

MMGM- Biographies

25109013Armand,Glenda and Cooper, Floyd. Ira's Shakespeare Dream 

August 15, 2015, Lee & Low Books

Copy received from the publisher

Becoming an actor is one good way to irritate your family, and in the early 1800s, Ira's father would really rather he become a minister. Ira loves the stage, however, and is especially fond of Shakespeare. Since he is free, he is able to work for the African Grove theater in New York, but has a close call with slave traders who want to buy him. Frustrated by his limited possibilities, and not wanting to go to ministry college, Ira goes to London. There, he manages to find roles after working very hard to perfect his craft, and he was also able to share the story of the plight of African Americans in the US. 

This is a great biography about a very renowned actor who is hardly known today. Armnad does a great job at constructing believable scenes from his life as they most likely happened. The illustrations by Cooper are dramatic, and yet tinged with a sepia-toned sadness. Like many picture book biographies, this is really for older children, due to the length and challenging text, but would be great to share with younger classes as well. 

I am not surprised that Lee & Low Books were able to herald an African American "celebrity figure" from history in a respectful and informative way!

25779073Calkhoven, Laurie. Women Who Changed the World: 50 Amazing Americans
December 29th 2015 by Scholastic Paperback Nonfiction
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central 

Starting with Pocahontas and continuing through Margaret Bourke-White and Misty Copeland, this brightly illustrated book introduces readers to fast facts about women who  have made contributions in many fields. A photograph, if one exists, is accompanied by basic biographical information, and a larger illustration of each woman is shown alongside further descriptions of her work and accolades. There are also sidebars with statistics or other interesting facts. 

This would be a great resource to have if children have to chose people to research for a project, since the information is brief yet complete. There is also a two page list of additional women at the end of the book, as well as a glossary of terms. 

There is always room for books that introduce students to historical personages, like or Chin-Lee's Amelia to Zora or Schatz's Rad American Women from A to Z. This Scholastic paperback would have been my daughter's first choice if it had been included in a book club flyer! There is, however, still room for other corporate biographies of lesser known women-- most of my students have heard of Amelia Earhart, but few know of Frances Perkins or Clare Booth Luce. 

Miller, Pat Zietlow. The Quickest Kid in Clarksville
9 February 2016, Chronicle Books
Copy received from the publisher

Alta is looking forward to seeing her idol, Wilma Rudolph, in a parade in her hometown of Clarksville, Tennessee. Alta is a runner herself, and when she meets Charmaine, she starts to doubt herself. Not only is Charmaine a fast runner as well, but she has new tennis shoes, while Alta's are worn out. Alta thinks about the challenges that Wilma faced on her way to the Olympics, and doesn't let Charmaine's superior attitude get to her. When the girls need to work together to get a banner to the parade site, they realize that it's more fun to be friends than to fight. 

While I knew about Rudolph's athletic accomplishments, I hadn't thought much about her impact on young girls at the time. A note in the back mentions that when Clarksville wanted to honor Rudolph's accomplishments with a parade, she refused to attend unless the event were not segregated. This was unusual for the time, so the illustration showing black and white faces cheering on their hometown hero together is very effective.

Period details abound in the illustrations, and I love that the children are shown wearing brightly colored clothing against gray and tan, rather run down buildings. The faces of the characters are very expressive, as are the postures the girls strike when quarreling. While I thought that this book would be a biography of Rudolph, I was charmed to find another story entirely. This would be a good read aloud for Black History Month, and could spark some conversations about working together. 

Sunday, February 07, 2016

MMGM- Peas and Carrots

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and What Are You Reading? day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday.

Peas & CarrotsDavis, Tanita. Peas and Carrots
February 9th 2016 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Copy sent by the author, just because I asked! Ah!

Dess's mother Trish is in jail for drugs, but is also under protection because she is going to testify and hopefully put some gang members away. Dess has been in foster care, but that's been almost as rocky as her life with her mother. When she ends up in a new placement, she is surprised that she is placed with her younger brother Austin's foster family. The Carters are an African-American family; Dess is Caucasian, and Austin is mixed. The Carters are model parents, talking through difficulties with the children and are very patient with Dess's adjustment. Hope, who is Dess's age, is less understanding. Hope has her own problems fitting in, and while she has a very comfortable life and attends a preppy private school, it is hard to deal with foster children like baby Jamiara, who takes a lot of care. Hope tries to be patient with Dess, but it's hard when Dess calls her "heifer" and may take Hope's coveted spot in a school choir. Dess isn't fond of the fact that Austin seems to have forgotten all about their mother, and she is also worried that members of the gang are looking for her. Things don't always go smoothly, but things don't go smoothly in any family, and eventually Hope and Dess figure this out. 

Strengths: My students love Davis' work because she writes about middle class African-American characters who have distinct personalities. I love her work because she has adult characters who are positive role models and writes about them in an engaging, realistic way. Years ago, I actually had a student who came to live with her much younger brother's foster family. There is a lot of curiosity about that family dynamic, and this will be a great book to hand to readers who enjoy One for the Murphys or Where I'd Like to Be. 

Weaknesses: The girl on the cover who is portraying Hope seems much slimmer than the way she was described in the book, which is just sad. 

What I really think: This is an excellent choice for high school libraries, because of the age of the characters, but is also perfectly appropriate for middle school. I love books that bridge that gap, because I frequently have readers who want fiction with more depth but who aren't quite ready for grittier YA fare. This is perfect. 

And how cute is this package! Not to self, if I ever publish a book, I have to somehow tie in coordinated candy!

Science and Math

25159534Souders, Taryn. Dead Possums Are Fair Game
November 3rd 2015 by Sky Pony Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

Ella doesn't like math because she struggles so much with it that she may have to have a tutor over the summer to help reinforce her skills. She doesn't want to spend her time doing that, so she hopes that she can bring her math grade up and avoid it. The problem? The teacher cancels the tests for the rest of the year and decides to have a math fair instead. Ella is assigned to a good group, but the topic, time conversions, is one with which she struggled. And it's worth two test grades! Her friends Jolina and Lucille, as well as Jonathan, offer to help as much as they can, and the group decides that they will picture a lot of animals, and convert their average life expectancies into hours, minutes and seconds. The idea comes from the fact that an opossum died on the school grounds, wasn't cleaned up, and ended up "catching" a soccer ball. (Hence the cover.) Ella has other problems as well; her free-wheeling photographer aunt is having renovations done on her condo and is bunking with Ella. So is her dog, Chewy. Ella is very particular about her room, so this stresses her out a lot. As the math fair approaches, things continue to go wrong in spectacular fashions. Will Ella end up having to spend her summer working on math, even after all of her hard work?
As focused as many students are on school, it is surprising that there are few fiction books that feature school work as a problem. There are a few math book, like Weissman's The Short Seller and Annika Riz, Math Whiz, but most books involving school involve journaling for language arts classes. I appreciated that Ella tried her best, and while she doesn't love math at the end of the book, she feels her skills are stronger. 

It was nice that Ella's parents were supportive, even if her mother relied a bit toom uch on meatloaf for family dinners. There was a lot of gentle humor in this book, both at home and at school. The issues with friends were realistic as well. 

This will be a popular choice for readers who enjoy realistic fiction. I wish the cover and title were a little more upbeat, since the issue with the dead possum, while informing the plot, takes up very little of the body of the book.

1713102Moranville, Sharelle Byars. A Higher Geometry
May 2nd 2006 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)

Anna is a great math student, and in 1959, she is lucky that she was allowed to take a higher math class with the boys. Her father is very strict, not letting her date until she's 16, and he is reluctant to send her to a math competition because girls get married, not go to college. She meets Matt, and they start hanging out together and eventually develop very strong feelings for each other. Matt is planning on joining the Army so he can get money to go to college and leave their small town, but Anna has very little hope until a teacher convinces her parents to let her attend a math competition. She does, wins, and still has to convince her parents that there is more to her life than marrying. The family is also grieving the death of the father's mother in a car accident, and her absence casts a pall on family gatherings. When Anna gets an opportunity to study, her family must finally realize that times, they are a-changing. 
Strengths: I'm always looking for books set during this time period, and the details of every day life are brilliant. I love that it addresses a girl who had atypical interests for the time. Students today don't understand what the feminist movement is about, because they've never been told they have to take typing or home ec because they are girls. 
Weaknesses: The ending was rather weak, and I wasn't sure where Anna and Matt's relationship was going. There is some talk about sex, but nothing instructional, other than condoms being mentioned. (Matt has one; there is a lot of back and forth about what good girls do, but again, few details.)
What I really think: If I can order this from Follett, I'll be glad to get a copy. The catalog shows that it is still available. 

Saturday, February 06, 2016



Braddock, Page. Stinky Cecil: Terrarium Terror
February 2nd 2016 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Copy provided by the publisher

Cecil and his friends are hanging out at the pond as usual when they see a group of miniature humans. Unfortunately, one of them picks Cecil up and takes him back to the school to live in a terrarium. It's not Cecil's favorite place because of a very talkative chameleon, but it's not that bad a life. All leisure, no looking for food or worrying about predators. A snake who likes to hide in the log questions whether Cecil will miss his freedom, and eventually he does long for his friends. Luckily, they are preparing the rescue mission, using Jeff the Hamster's remote control helicopter, but when they finally get to the school, they find that the miniature humans have already gone to a lot of trouble to take Cecil back to his environment. 
Strengths: Cecil and his friends are humorous, and the grounds eye view of pond life is interesting. The moral dilemma faced by the classmates who picked up Cecil in the first place will make young readers think before picking up animal life and bringing it home. The colors are so vivid, and the expressions on the characters' faces are amusing. I can see this being used in an elementary science classroom to great effect, especially if terraria are being constructed.
Weaknesses: All of the full color comics smell rather horrible to me, but the smell does dissipate after use, unlike my older books that smell bad for other reasons!

What I really think: I wish that Follett or Baker and Taylor would offer this in a prebind-- my copy of the first book has been read a lot. It's holding up well, but won't last too long in paperback!

25785761Bauer, Marion Dane. Little Cat's Luck
February 9th 2016 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Patches is very happy with her humans in her nice, comfortable house, but when she chases a leaf outside, she ends up getting lost. She then feels that she should find her own special place, and ends up befriending the mean junkyard dog, Gus. After Patches has three kittens in Gus' dog house, she enlists in the aid of local squirrels and mice to find her humans. When she does, she's glad to be home, but has to find a way to get her kittens to her home as well. To make matters more difficult, Gus doesn't want to be separated from the kittens, either. 

Strengths: Obviously, I am a sucker for illustrations of adorable animals. Patches story is very gentle and gives a good lesson about making assumptions about people (or dogs) and about finding one's place of comfort. This would be a good choice for young readers in second or third grade who want to think they are reading a really long book (224 pages, but in verse, with illustrations).

Weaknesses: Not the sort of novel in verse that I think is anything fantastic. Definitely for a younger crowd than middle school students. 

What I really think: Will pass, although this would be a solid purchase for an elementary library. 

22098550Pennypacker, Sara. Pax
February 2nd 2016 by Balzer + Bray
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

In an undetermined place, in a fairly recent time, Peter's father enlists in the army even though he doesn't have to. The war is coming to where Peter lives, so his father has him release his pet fox to the wild, and sends Peter to live with his grandfather. Peter worries about Pax, and runs off from his grandfather's house to make his way back home to find his beloved pet. After walking a tremendous distance, he gets horrible blisters, and luckily finds Vola, a veteran who has lost a leg. She takes him in, makes him write to his grandfather to say he's okay, and helps him come to terms with what is happening. When he heals a bit, he heads off to find Pax, only to find that the war has come to the place where he last saw his pet. Some chapters are told from Pax's viewpoint, but this is still probably realistic fiction, since Pax never speaks to humans. Horrible things happen to Pax, although he is able to get help from other foxes and creatures who are friendly, but war is always horrible. 

Strengths: This will probably win the Newbery, if you check out the number of 5 star reviews on So sad. So much sad. If you liked Jon Walter's Close to the Wind, or you just need to sob your eyes out, make sure to pick this up. 
Weaknesses: I can't see my students liking this at all, even with the Jon Klassen illustrations. There's no particular setting, which is always frustrating. I also found it hard to believe that Vola didn't make Peter go home. 
What I really think: This is the sort of book that makes me wonder if everyone else is right and I'm just so, so wrong. I won't be buying this for my school because I think it would just collect dust. 

Friday, February 05, 2016

Guy Friday- Baseball

25786953Robinson, Sharon. The Hero Two Doors Down
January 26th 2016 by Scholastic Press
ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

When Jackie Robinson rents an apartment in Steve Satlow's predominately Jewish neighborhood, some of the neighbors are not happy. Steve, however, is thrilled, and since Robinson is doing a good job for the Dodgers, his family is grudgingly accepted. Steve makes friends with the young children, and gets to know his idol a little bit. Things are not always easy, but Steve and his family are supportive of the ball player and his young family, and Steve, as well as his neighbors, get good experience in finding out that people need to be judged on who they are, not what they look like. 

Strengths: This is based on Robinson's interviews with the real Steve Satlow, who was her father's neighbor before she was born, so this is a mostly true story. This is a little covered era in Civil Rights, and Robinson's story is a tremendously interesting one. Young readers who like sports stories will be glad to see this one, especially those who have studied players of the past. 

Weaknesses: There isn't as much baseball as I hoped there would be in this, and the story seemed on the young side. 

What I really think: My readers would probably enjoy a biography of Robinson more than this story, so I am debating purchase. 

25809985Bauer, Joan. Soar.
Viking Books for Young Readers (January 5, 2016)

Jeremiah was abandoned as a baby and found by Walt, a robotics engineer, in the company break room. He later adopts Jeremiah, and the two move whenever Walt is hired to trouble shoot. Unfortunately, Jeremiah had a virus that damaged his heart, and has had a transplant, so when Walt gets hired to work nearCincinnati Ohio, for two months, Jeremiah has to get the okay of his heart team. He's excited to move because baseball is a huge thing in Hillcrest, where the team is very good, and even though he can't play, he likes to coach. When the two settle in their new town, Jeremiah finds that there are problems not only with the middle school ball team, but with the high school one as well. Luckily, with the support of Walt, his new cardiologist, and some new friends, Jeremiah is able to enjoy his stay and also help out the cause of baseball in Hillcrest.

Strengths: Bauer always writes an intriguing tale, and the details are exquisite. She also manages to work themes that teachers like (persistence, reaching for impossible goals) with topics that students like (baseball), and always has engaging characters. 

Weaknesses: There were a few things that were a little unbelievable-- why would Walt adopt an abandoned baby? Why was Hillcrest so nuts about baseball? What really went on with the steroids? The target demographic will not overthink this the way that I did. 

What I really think: I just could not connect with any of the characters, and felt "meh" about this one, which surprised me. I've already ordered a copy, so we'll see how it does with students. 

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Mystery Thursday- The Case of the Girl in Grey

25354658Stratford, Jordan. The Case of the Girl in Grey (The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency #2)
January 5th 2016 by Alfred A. Knopf
Copy provided by the publisher

After The Case of the Missing Moonstone, Ada and her friends are back, this time hired by a very smart mathematician... who is a woman! Mrs. Sommerville is concerned about her niece Lizzie's impending marriage to Sir Caleb. While everything seems fine on the surface, she has an underlying feeling of suspicion, so hires Ada, Mary Allegra and Jane to visit and assess the situation. Once there, the girls are uncomfortable as well, and overhear some things that make them worry about Lizzie's future. Ada returns later, and she and Lizzie get caught out in a storm while investigating, and Ada becomes deathly ill. Meanwhile, assisted by Charles Dickens, Mary is able to shed some light on a ghostly figure who looked much like Lizzie, as well as secrets about Sir Caleb's shady past. Will the Wollstonecraft Detective Agency be able to stop the wedding before Lizzie comes to grief?

Strengths: There were some nice details about every day life in Georgian England, charming illustrations, and lots of codes and investigative techniques. Historical figures are used to good effect, and the tweaking that occurs in the time line is explained at the back. This would be a good way to introduce famous women scientists and mathematicians to younger students. The plot is a simple mystery, but has enough turns in it to make it interesting. 
Weaknesses: There are a lot of characters in this, and it makes it hard to keep everyone straight. Except Allegra. She's too annoying to be unremarkable.
What I really think: While I enjoy books like this, they are a very hard sell for my students. I will dust off the first in the series and see if I can get someone to check it out. 

25663502Spratt, R.A. Friday Barnes: Girl Detective
January 19th 2016 by Roaring Brook Press 
E ARC from

Friday is the product of very busy parents who have four older children, and then are surprised by Friday's appearance. They encourage her to accelerate academically, but pay little attention to her otherwise. When she solves a mystery of a theft at a bank, she used the $50,000 reward to send herself to a private school. Since she is used to dressing in "camouflage" colors so as to go unnoticed and be better able to sleuth, she is a bit appalled that her traditional outfit looks out of place amidst all of the designer clothes. Nevertheless, she manages to solve all manner of mysteries at the school.

Strengths: This is a funny, short mystery with a fun setting and a quirky main character, and mysteries like that are usually fairly popular. 

Weaknesses: Friday is quirky beyond the boundaries of belief, and this was rather annoying. The teachers were all ridiculous, and the mysteries were of the "dogs in the neighborhood being kidnapped" variety, which don't do well with my murder loving middle school readers. 

What I really think: Australian books just don't translate well, even if they are given new illustrations with characters in typically US letterman jackets. 

#WNDB Wednesday: Cleo Edison Oliver: Playground Millionaire

Frazier, Sundee T. Cleo Edison Oliver: Playground Millionaire 
26 January 2016, Arthur A Levine Books
ARC from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

Cleo is starting fifth grade, but her real passion is starting businesses. Her idol is Fortune A. Davies, who has a television show about entrepreneurs, and Cleo takes her advice to heart. She sells avocados from her back yard trees, and everything is a business opportunity. When she realizes that many of her classmates have loose teeth, she comes up with a fairly painless way to remove them using a Nerf gun, and figures that there is a lot of money to be made if she markets it correctly. Unfortunately, her first session of tooth removal is interrupted when she becomes ill, and she knows that bringing the business to school is a risky proposition. She is also dealing with other issues-- her best friend, Caylee is angry with her, she is in trouble with her parents for small things like annoying her brothers and borrowing things without asking, and a classmate makes fun of her for being adopted. The last issue is one that bothers Cleo more than she would like to admit. She is proud of her name, and of being part Filipina and part African American, but she struggles with why her birth mother was not able to raise her. Luckily, her adoptive parents are very supportive, and manage to help Cleo navigate her way through all of her difficulties.

Cleo was a lively, engaging character who exhibited many of the traits inherent to 10-year-olds: trouble with impulse control, combativeness when upset, and enthusiastic exuberance about whatever is exciting to them at the moment. All of these things get her into trouble, but the adults in her life understand and try to redirect her in productive ways. There aren't a lot of books that show this side of the later elementary years, and readers like characters who occasionally get into trouble. I especially appreciated that Cleo's business at school was NOT something that went on for very long before she was caught. It was also realistic that she got a day of suspension for bringing a Nerf gun to school, even though the principal and teacher didn't blow the incident out of proportion.

The supporting characters are well drawn. Caylee has her own problems with her parents' divorce, but they aren't heard over the noise of Cleo being Cleo. There are mean girls in the class, a boy who likes to put erasers up his nose, and a teacher who wants to inspire students to do their best.

Readers who enjoy Ms. Frazier's other books will be glad to meet Cleo, who will appeal to those who like the realistic fiction books like Liberty Porter, Ten, and the works of Margolis, Naylor, Cody Kimmel and other books set in late elementary school.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Sweet Home Alaska

25489429Dagg, Carole Estby. Sweet Home Alaska. 
February 2nd 2016 by Nancy Paulsen Books
Copy received from the publisher

In the grip of the Great Depression, Terpsichore's family is barely holding on in their small Wisconsin town. Her father has lost his job as a bookkeeper, and the family is quickly running out of food, relying on their garden and Terpsichore's skill in the kitchen. When her father finds out about FDR's plan to send families on relief to set up a settlement in Alaska, he is very excited and fills out the application. Her mother, however, is less than thrilled about moving out to the wilderness, and it isn't until one of the family's accepted backs out that the Johnsons are accepted. They pack up their household belongings, get on a ship, and set off. One of the first people she meets is Mendel, who is a veritable mine of esoteric information, but whom she finds a tiny bit overbearing and boring. He is a nice change from younger siblings Matthew, Cally, and Polly, so the two become friends after a fashion. When she starts school in her new community, Trip (whose hated nickname follows her) meets Gloria, who is a good substitute for her friend Eileen. The three classmates decide that what Palmer, their new community, needs is a library. Trip does a ton of work, asking her grandmother for books, getting supplies from Demco, and raising money for the library by washing diapers for a neighbor! Gloria and Mendel also turn their hands to fundraising, and before long the Palmer Library Action Committee has a selection of books as well as a couple of magazines which they store in the pastor's tent. After a particularly bad storm, the books are moved to the school building for safe keeping, and the children's contribution isn't recognized, causing some confusion and hard feelings. The situation is worked out, and Trip is able to turn her hand to pumpkin growing just in time for a community festival. Will her family be able to stay on in the new frontier, or will they be returning to the civilized world of Wisconsin?

I love historical novels where I learn things! I had no idea that Roosevelt had sent people to Alaska, along with a huge number of CCC workers who built homes, schools, and a hospital. Of course, there was no electricity at first, so Trip's mother has to leave her electric stove and isn't happy about it! Gloria isn't happy about the lack of movie magazines, although movies occasionally make it to the community. 

The details of daily life, both in Wisconsin and in Alaska, are nicely drawn. Trip's collection of books is particularly interesting, as is her processing of them with circulation cards and spine labels, and her excitement about getting a copy of the brand new Little House on the Prairie is very fun. There is a note in the back about the lack of indigenous Alaskan people-- apparently, sources from the time don't mention anything about them, and the author has not interpolated any communication between the two groups. 

Trip is an engaging character, and her enthusiasm for bringing her love for books to her neighbors is admirable. Sweet Home Alaska is a great addition to pioneering books like Larson's Hattie Big Sky, Hill's Bo of Iditarod Creek, or the Little House books that Trip 

Thanks to Nancy Paulsen books for sending me a copy and arranging for Carole to stop by today. I adored The Year We Were Famous, so here are some of Carole's travel tips!

dagg-home-portraitWhen my husband and I retired, we celebrated by booking an around the world, 90-day cruise. Don’t get too jealous. This was on the aging QE2 on her last world tour (leaking ceiling in the hall, broken air conditioning)  and we were in the cheapest inside cabin (no porthole, one bunk bed) located  next to crew members who partied all night. We had room for only one person to get dressed at a time, and we had to wear heavy slippers because the floor was hot from the engines right below us.

So what if the cabin was hot and cramped? We saw the world, and the only times we were in the cabin were to sleep, wash, and (for me) work on my first book, The Year We Were Famous.

Travel makes history real. We stood where the first Olympics were held in Greece, We crept into King Tut’s tomb, stood outside the fence where the last helicopters evacuated people desperate to leave VietNam as the war ended, climbed the ruins of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and rode a jeep in the Falkland Islands, where unexploded land mines still remained after the war, rounded Cape Horn like many a seafarer before us, had tea in Bath, England (the site of my favorite Jane Austen book) and peeped into Captain Cook’s cottage in Melbourne, Australia.

Growing up in the Western World, I felt the most history in Greece, but Cambodia left a strong impression too, because I didn’t know any of the history before we visited.

ODDEST: Here I am, on a camel among the Great Pyramids. My husband is in front of me, talking to one of the locals. What you can’t see in the picture is that Cairo population has spread far beyond its original footprint, and that just beyond a narrow stretch of sand and a busy road, there’s a Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Be flexible. Try kippers or pickled herring for breakfast instead of Cheerios.
When it makes sense, ignore the itinerary you’d planned and  take advantage of whatever you discover on the way.
If you can find a shared language, talk to the locals. Learn at least a few polite phrases of the language.

Look for common ground as well as differences in the people you meet. 

Monday, February 01, 2016

MMGM- Quest Maker (The Last Dragon Charmer #2)

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and What Are You Reading? day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday.

25816959McKay, Laurie. Quest Maker (The Last Dragon Charmer #2)
February 2nd 2016 by HarperCollins
Copy received from the author

Caden is still stranded in Asheville, N.C., and he and his friends Tito and Brynne are worried when they see flashes in the sky that look like a banishing spell. Is someone else from the Greater Realm being sent to deal with Ms. Primrose, the dragon in charge of Caden's school? They later find that Caden's brother, Jasan, has arrived, and they aren't quite sure what his purpose is. Caden is too busy with his quest for Ms. Primrose to investigate; the school has had a lot of odd things happening. There is foul gas, swarms of insects, and other things that reflect poorly on the principal, so she instructs Caden to bring her proof of the person behind the events. If he doesn't, she'll eat him! It's hard to investigate when Caden's foster mother, the police, and other people in Asheville think Caden has severe psychological problems! Despite the ever present threat of Rath Dunn, who is after Brynne's hair and Caden's blood, Caden and his friends try to figure out the mystery of the troubles at school as well as the mystery of Jasan's presence in Asheville. Will Caden be able to find a way to get back home to his royal father, or will he be eaten by a dragon first?

Strengths: This fits the bill of the type of fantasy my readers are asking for these days-- set in our world but incorporating swords and dragons, action-packed, and filled with monsters, swarms of bees, and other creatures who must be defeated. I liked that the plot was clearly defined and the book didn't ramble like so many fantasy books do. This was lightly humorous as well. 

Weaknesses: Caden seems to be settling in well, but occasionally there are somewhat jarring references to things he doesn't understand. E.G. He eats round grains with milk for breakfast. I know that this artifice is essential, but perhaps could be worked in more consistently or smoothly. 

What I really think: I have about three children waiting for my copy of the ARC, so I think this is a good purchase for most middle school libraries!

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Kaitlyn and the Competition (The Babysitting Chronicles #1)

26336810Green, D.L. Kaitlyn and the Competition (The Babysitting Chronicles #1)
February 1st 2016 by Stone Arch Books 
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Kaitlyn Perez has a nice babysitting business going, with a few loyal customers. While her family is well off, her parents work with disadvantaged children, so are not going to buy Kaitlyn or her sister some of the fancier clothes, room decor, or cellphones that they might want, so both girls work. Kaitlyn is a very organized and responsible babysitter who brings educational games and books on jobs with her, and who makes sure that the children are in bed on time and the house is clean. When she loses jobs to a new sitter named "Doc" who lets his charges eat candy and play tag in the house, she sets out to investigate which of her classmates this might be. Along the way, there is some middle school drama, with her friend Piper trying to talk Kaitlyn into buying an expensive dress and losing Kaitlyn's cell phone, as well as drama with a boy asking Kaitlyn to a school dance. When Kaitlyn locates the "competition", she realizes it is a boy who needs money because his parents' restaurant has gone out of business, and she works with him to form a business that can employ not only the two sitters but also Piper and Kaitlyn's sister as well. 

Strengths: I liked the tips offered at the beginning of the chapters, and I liked the positive role model of Kaitlyn wanting to earn money for fripperies that her parents wouldn't buy. The friend drama and other issues all ring very true to life. I liked the inclusion of Spanish words and phrases as well as the present and supportive parents.

Weaknesses: Since Capstone sells mainly to the school and public library markets, the only two options for buying this currently are a $20 hard cover or a $6 paperback. For a book of this length (about 150 pages), $20 is a lot. 

What I really think: Capstone books are fantastic for my struggling middle school readers, so I will definitely look into this series, but may wait to see if a prebind becomes available. 

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Saturday Morning Cartoons- Study Hall of Justice

25786965Fridolfs, Derek and Nguyen, Dustin (Illustrations)
Study Hall of Justice (DC Comics: Secret Hero Society #1) 
January 26th 2016 by Scholastic Inc.
EARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

In this graphic novel, young Bruce Wayne is being sent to a new private school, Ducald (in my copy, Doomvale in the Goodreads description) Academy. He is surprised to see that bad behavior is encouraged, and that the teachers all seem fairly evil as well. He is bedeviled by students like Joe Kerr and the other class clowns, but does make an uneasy friendship with farm boy Clark, who wants to be a reporter, and foreign exchange student Diana. The three try to investigate various happenings and unearth secrets about their school. 

Strengths: This was fairly clever, well-plotted and a quick read. I especially liked the inclusion of Alfred, Bruce Wayne's butler. 

Weaknesses: The bullying was boring and stereotypical. The E ARC was somewhat hard to follow because the pictures weren't complete-- I'd like to see a finished copy. 

What I really think: This is one I'll definitely have to buy. Be interested to see in what direction the series is going. This is a little too coy about the identities of the three main superheroes, which is weird, since it's so obvious who they are. 

Wonder Woman: Amazon Warrior (Backstories)

Wonder Woman: Amazon Warrior

February 23rd 2016 by Scholastic Inc.
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

I've looked at this series, and in theory it sounds great-- comic book characters, pictures, etc. One of the few super hero comics I had as a child featured Wonder Woman. 

Probably won't buy this series, though. Why? It was boring! The information seemed to be repeated, the timeline didn't move forward in a way that made sense, there weren't that many pictures, and it didn't make me excited to read about Wonder Woman's further adventures. The covers are fantastic, but the content left a lot to be desired!

"Who is Wonder Woman? How did she become a powerful Super Hero? What abilities does she use to fight for what is right? In this biography--complete with black-and-white illustrations, timelines, and character profiles--young readers will delight in learning the complete history of the awesome Amazon princess."

Friday, January 29, 2016

Guy Friday--This Way Home

24822646Moore, Wes with Shawn Goodman. This Way Home
November 10th 2015 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers

Elijah is good at basketball, and hopes that it will be his ticket to a college scholarship so he can escape his rough Baltimore neighborhood. When he and his friends form a team to play in a big tournament, he is a bit worried when his friend Michael finds a "sponsor" for them who provides expensive shoes and clothes, but he has other things to worry about. His mother has arranged for him to help Mr. Banks, an ex-military man, fix up his house. Banks is a hard task master, but Elijah is not one to give up. He breaks up chunks of concrete, moves dirt, and always shows up on time for work. He forges an unsteady friendship with Banks, who also can handle the gang members in the neighborhood. It doesn't hurt that Banks' daughter is smart, attractive, and interested in Elijah. When Elijah's mother tells the team that they have to ditch the gang sponsorship, the boys do... and tragedy ensues. Can Elijah manage to hold on to his dreams of basketball and escaping his neighborhood?
Strengths: Students will adore this. Basketball, gangs, all sorts of things they like to read about (The 7th grade just finished The Outsiders, so they all want books about gangs now!). I liked that it had supportive parents and community and a good message. Also, I hope that readers who enjoy this will pick up The Other Wes Moore.
Weaknesses: Sad to think that gangs really do exist and that they are a problem. The cover isn't great. I wish the basketball were more clearly visible. 

What I really think: Glad to add this to my collection of sports books. Don't know how I missed it at first. 

25582717Johnson, Varian. To Catch a Cheat
January 26th 2016 by Arthur A. Levine Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Jackson and his friends are caught on video flooding the school bathrooms-- only they didn't do it! Gaby and Jackson have an alibi that will get them in even worse trouble, so when Rob and Thom offer them a deal-- the video destroyed if they can get a copy of the history exam--they embark on an elaborate scheme to get the test, even though they do not want to cheat themselves. There are all sorts of grudges, kids with mad tech skills, misguided but well meaning security guards and principals and even a little kissing as Jackson and his Gang Green try to stay out of trouble while implicating the students who are actually trying to cheat. 

Strengths: When Jackson is not convincing someone to hack into a system, he's an interesting kid. His relationship with Gaby is sweet and age appropriate, and it's especially interesting since he is friends with her brother. I also liked that she was on the girls' basketball team and had to miss some of the sneaking around because she had games. 

Weaknesses: This was even more unbelievable than The Great Green Heist for me. Since I am our building tech person, if something went this wrong with the video surveillance system, I'd be brought in on it, and I have never met a student who is this tech savvy. I could excuse the breach with reality, but there are so many details about exactly what the crew needs to do with the tech that the story got a bit slow. If there is another book, I'd like to see more of a focus on Jackson's middle school life and less about scams. 

What I really think: Will buy a copy, since I have three of the first book and they circulate well. 
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