Sunday, May 24, 2015

A Handful of Stars

23399197Lord, Cynthia. A Handful of Stars 
May 26th 2015 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Lily's dog, Lucky, is her main connection to her mother, who was killed in a car accident when Lily was very young. Lucky is mostly blind, and when he runs away across the blueberry barrens, he is fortunate to be caught by Salma before he gets to the woods. He eats Salma's sandwich, and Lily feels bad. Her grandmother suggests taking a special casserole to Salma's family as an apology and thank you. Salma's family lives in a migrant worker camp while they are harvesting the blueberries, and Salma is rather tired of always being in a different place. The girls make a connection, and soon Salma is helping Lily paint bee boxes to sell to raise money for eye surgery for Lucky. The girls plan on selling them at the local blueberry festival, and also decide to sell blueberry enchilladas. Lily's former best friend, Hannah, is bound and determined to be the blueberry queen at the festival for the second year, but is helpful when Salma wants to enter the competition. There are problems along the way, but in the end, there are some innovative solutions that make everyone happy.
Strengths: The conditions under which Salma's family lives are interesting, and there aren't a whole lot of modern books (this brought to mind Blue Willow) that cover this population. Lily and Hannah's relationship was very well portrayed, and the setting of the small, close-knit community and the supportive grandparents were an endearing touch .
Weaknesses: While the overall tone of this book was as cheery as the very nice cover would indicate, the underlying feeling of Lily's sadness over her mother's death was an unnecessary detail. Lucky's plight was sad enough, and given the age of the dog, I was surprised he survived the book. Why interpolate so much sadness when it's not necessary?
What I really think: Will buy because of the cultural diversity and the dog on the cover, and will use it when the 7th graders need problem novels.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Princesses and Cookies

Cabot, Meg. From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess
May 19th 2015 by Feiwel & Friends
ARC from Baker and Taylor

gallery_nrm_1418333586-royalweddingOlivia goes to a private school in New Jersey and lives with her aunt, uncle, and step cousins. She's bullied and flat out beat up by Annabelle (whose father is her guardians' lawyer), but luckily rescued by... Princess Mia! Who turns out to be her half sister! And whisks her away to a posh hotel to meet her father! The reason she hasn't met her father previously? Her mother died in an accident when she was a baby and left instructions that she wasn't to be raised as a spoiled royal. Her father has been sending her letters, as well as significant support to her family, even though they might have been misappropriating it. When the aunt and uncle consider a move out of the country, the royals step in. Olivia is thrilled on so many levels: she fangirls over Mia, loves Grandmere's poodle, gets a phone of her own finally, as well as a significant wardrobe, and feels loved instead of being an inconvenience. Her aunt and uncle raise objections to her being taken to Genovia, but mainly because they want to keep their greedy paws on the royal money.
Strengths: Olivia is biracial, and the cover shows that clearly. She does get away from the bully and finds a supportive family. This might gets younger readers interested in The Princess Diaries, which would be nice, since they are taking up an entire shelf in my library and not being read. Interestingly, Royal Wedding (June 2nd 2015 by William Morrow & Company) also introduces Oliva, but is being published as an ADULT book, which makes me worry.
Weaknesses: Stereotypical bullying. We never find out how Olivia's parents got together, or what happened. There is conversation in texts. Everything seems a bit over the top, and yet very similar to Mia's story. I'm sure there are more books forthcoming.
What I really think: Meh. I'll buy a copy, but there was nothing fresh or interesting in this. Cabot provided the interior illustrations, which are better than, say, Ruth Chew but have a very 1970s vibe to them.

23309659Freeman, Martha. The Secret Cookie Club
May 19th 2015 by Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Four girls meet at Moonlight Ranch Summer camp. They don't get along at first, but bond when their conselour, Hannah, helps them make cookies. When camp is over and they go their separate ways, Hannah gives them recipe boxes, and the girls promise to stay in touch. Grace, who is half Chinese-American, goes home to Boston, where her very uptight parents control everything she does. She has to work on a project with Shoshi, a girl she really dislikes, but getting a batch of cookies helps her learn to get along with the other girl and eases the tension with her mother. Emma (from a wealthy suburb of Philadelphia) is supposed to be working on a family projects, but loses the pictures and has troubles with her mother. Cookies again save the day. Olivia, whose parents run a very successful barbecue sauce company, has trouble with math and has to watch her brother's sports. Lucy, whose lawyer father spent time in jail before leaving her mother, doesn't have enough money to return to the camp the following year. Her grandmother, who is rather hippie-ish, seems to have agoraphobia, and her mother works as a waitress in Beverly Hills, although they live in their own, very small, home there. Lucy babysits triplets and manages to save them from a coyote. As the year progresses, the girls write back and forth, send cookies, and plan for the summer.
Strengths: Friend stories are always popular, and this had a little bit of variety in the characters. They all had different problems.
Weaknesses: All of the girls are very privileged. Even Lucy, who is supposedly poor, lives in a neighborhood where the cheapest single family homes run about a million dollars. The other girls-- gracious! I didn't know it was possible to buy a house for nine million dollars! Yes, I got so distracted by the descriptions of the neighborhoods that I looked them up on Zillow. Olivia has a housekeeper who makes her snacks. Lots of private schools involved. It was beyond ridiculous.
What I really think: There's an attempt at diversity, but like so many other ensemble books, the characters are basically all the same, just happen to be Jewish or African-American. Wait! We're missing the red headed girl on the cover. I'd like to see a more realistic group of friends, or at least a little economic diversity, but the camp seems QUITE posh.

Looks like there is a sequel in the offing, given the ending of the book.

22693811Birdsall, Jeanne. The Penderwicks in Spring
March 24th 2015 by Knopf Books for Young Readers

Obviously, I cannot comment coherently on The Penderwicks judged on  my RANT four years ago. I knew this one was out, I requested it from my library, I tried my best to read it. I even got out the first two books in the series and tried to get students to check them out. No one would, not even for a class that required a novel with family interactions. I'm so conflicted about these. All of the people who like the same books I like think these books are great. I want desperately to like them-- the covers alone, with the silhouettes make me want to adore them.

The characters I want to slap soundly.

I'll keep the first two and see if anyone will ever read them. *Sigh* Perhaps if I didn't care so much, this would be easier!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Guy Friday- Stick Dog Dreams of Ice Cream

23015965Watson, Tom. Stick Dog Dreams of Ice Cream
May 19th 2015 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline
Also reviewed at Young Adult Books Central

Stick Dog and his friends are so hot, and desperately want some fresh water. They go in search of some, and count on Poo Poo's sense of smell to help them find it. They come across children playing in a lawn sprinkler, and have a humorous tussle with it. What really intrigues them, however, are the sweet, sticky puddles that they find on the pavement after a music playing truck visits a neighborhood and people get things from a man in the truck. Since dogs can read (I knew this!), the dogs know that this is ice cream, and they decide it will make them cool and give them refreshment. They stalk the truck and plan a very brilliant heist. Other titles include Stick Dog, Stick Dog Wants a Hot Dog, and Stick Dog Chases a Pizza. I am hoping that the final book in the series will involve the dogs going for Chinese food and being adopted by loving families!
Strengths: I do believe that these are becoming increasingly clever. While the dogs have had strategy in the past, this really goes above and beyond. They do, of course, get momentarily distracted by squirrels, but who doesn't?
Weaknesses: I worried that Karen's favorite ice cream flavor was light brown. Is that chocolate? And is ice cream okay for dog's to eat? They make disgusting dog ice cream, so perhaps eating that much ice cream might not be good for dogs. Not that I've ever tasted the disgusting dog ice cream...
What I really think: These are growing on me. I just want better bindings.

22208289Grabenstein, Chris. I Totally Funniest.
January 26th 2015 by Little, Brown and Company

Jamie Grimm is back (I Funny, I Even Funnier) and dreading the finals for the Planet's Funniest Kid Comic competition. He's worried he'll choke and not be able to say anything. He's worried that his bully cousin will do something to him. He's worried that the competitors will blow him away. When the competition is postponed, he has two more weeks to worry, and THEN a big storm hits the east coast and destroys his home as well as his uncle's restaurant. The good news is that the award has been increased to a million dollars, and that would certainly come in handy. He has some misunderstandings with his friends, and people keep saying that he is only getting the sympathy votes because he is in a wheelchair. Can Jamie overcome all of these obstacles and rock the competition?
Strengths: Middle grade readers love jokes, and they love pictures in books, so this will be very popular. Jamie's struggles with his disability, and other's perception of it, are not usually addressed with such frankness. The inside information about talk shows and reality competitions will appeal to readers interested in celebrity culture.
Weaknesses: I think that these are depressing. Jamie's cousin Steve is such a stereotypical bully that it's ridiculous. All the descriptions of Jamie's stage fright get wearing, and the jokes are not very funny.
What I Really Think: This isn't like giving cotton candy to kids for breakfast; it's sort of like Froot Loops or Lucky Charms. Which I was never allowed to have as a child, although we frequently had Apple Jacks, which are really no better.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Blather-- Limping towards the finish line.

Today is the last day of school. There are twelve books still out, but after mailing notices home, calling and talking to or leaving messages for parents, giving repeated notices to children and hunting them down at the end of the day, looking in their eyes and saying "You do realize that you will be with me in the library instead of going to field day, don't you?", I will still not get the books back. I like to have five or fewer books still out. I have given up keeping track of books checked out to students who leave the district.

There were about 14 books that came up missing in inventory; these were just stolen. That hurts. There's never any rhyme or reason to the titles, either. Farewell, books 8,11, and 12 of Shan's Cirque du Freak manga. We'll miss you, Arnie the Doughnut. So long Toft's The Twilight Circus. Goodbye, Gilman's The Devil's Breath. At least it was the third copy of that title. Some I will replace; others I will just mourn.

The annual Flocking of the Overheads is now, sadly, outdated. Now, it's collecting LCD remotes and the various pieces of Mimio equipment. Most of that will happen on our teacher work day tomorrow.

There are always students that I will miss, but I try not to think about it. There will be staff who leave as well. There will be new people next year. Maybe I will like them even better.

It was hard to muster enthusiasm this year, but I did come to school every day (Well, there were two days I had to take my parents to doctors, I went to Sacramento for Kidlitcon, and I accompanied the 8th graders to D.C., but I never woke up and called in sick!). I was always completely dressed, USUALLY in a skirt and not in jeans.

This is going to be a summer of regrouping. Cleaning, reading, getting a lot more sleep than usual. Then, come August, I will be back to my old level of annoying enthusiasm. I even have a theme for next year; those usually last about two weeks, but my rip off of an old Ohio tourism slogan makes me happy.

So does this:

Many, many thanks to Deb Nance at Readerbuzz for the following picture. I'm not entirely sure I could get through the day without the thought of Dav Pilkey and Jarrett Krosoczka with underpants on their heads.

How to Speak Dolphin

23399186Rorby, Ginny. How to Speak Dolphin
May 26th 2015 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Lily is being raised by her stepfather, Don, after the death of her father in the war and her mother two years previously in a car accident. Her brother, four-year-old Adam, is severely autistic and obsessed with dolphins. There is a nanny, Suzanne, who helps with Adam, but Lily still has to do a lot, and wishes that Adam could go to a school where he could get more training. Don considers one, but is more interested in dolphin therapy after he treats a dolphin for cancer, and Adam seems to bond with Nori, the young dolphin who ends up at the Sea World-like attraction. It's hard for Lily to make friends, but she meets Zoe in the local park when she is playing hooky from school. Lily is homeschooled because she is blind and her parents are overprotective, but the two girls get along well and start to bond over the shared opinion that Nori should be sent back to the wild. They do a lot of research on dolphins, as well as on treatment programs for children on the autism spectrum, and eventually manage to convince Don that they are right.
Strengths: This is a well balanced book, giving the ups and downs of different treatment programs for autism spectrum disorders as well as the dolphin issues. No characters are portrayed as completely black and white, and they are all open to different ideas. Lily and Zoe both treat Zoe's blindness very matter-of-factly without being either overly condescending or noble. The writing is solid, and the story moves along well.
Weaknesses: Can there be any more sadness in one single book? Lily's difficulties with her brother would have been enough basis for a book without the death of BOTH of her parents or the addition of Zoe's blindness. This doesn't get maudlin or hand-wringing, but it's still a lot of issues for one book.
What I really think: I realize my dislike of this is entirely personal. I am debating buying it, because there is a weirdly large interest in marine biology among my students (in Ohio? Don't get it.), and we do have an autism unit here at my school. If I can come up with a list of students I think will read it, I will put it on my list for fall. (I do that with all my books-- if I can't assign students to books in my mind, will anyone read them?)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer

22926534Jones, Kelly. Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer
May 12th 2015 by Knopf Books for Young Readers

E ARC from

Sophie and her parents move to her to her great uncles farm from Los Angeles when her father loses his job and her uncle dies. It's a difficult move; Sophie misses her abuela, who has passed away, as well as her extended family, and isn't too wild about the run down farm. She finds an address for a nearby company that sells "unusual chickens" and writes away for a catalog. She also finds an unusual chicken, whom she names Henrietta, who may or may not have the power to move things like the hen house! In letter to the uncle, grandmother, and the chicken company, written on an old typewriter, Sophie tries to figure out what is going on with the chickens, especially after more unusual chickens show up and a neighbor claims that they are hers. With the help of several new friends, Sophie learns how to care for chickens and decides to show her chickens and alert the area of the chicken theft attempts. In the end, she finds out some interesting things about the farm and the chickens.
Strengths: This was absolutely charming! The illustrations lend a lot to the pictures, and even though there were some sad things (job loss, death of grandmother and uncle) in the book, the story was upbeat and funny. It wasn't slap stick goofy, which makes it good for middle grade readers. I can't really explain why I liked this one so much; I just did. The diversity was nicely done as well, and the supportive community nicely described. Brava!
Weaknesses: I had my concerns that while elementary students would pick this up instantly, it might be a hard sell for middle school. This will not stop me from buying a copy and telling children "No, really. Just read this one." Luckily, most of my students know they can trust me!
What I really think: Maybe it's the warm memories of McBroom's Farm that this evoked, but I just adored this. If I had ten year olds on my gift list, I'd buy multiple copies to give away. This does have a very timeless, classic feel to it.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Orphan Army

18244299Maberry, Jonathan. The Orphan Army (The Nightsiders #1)
May 19th 2015, Simon & Schuster
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Milo lives in a post apocalyptic society in a pod of other young people who train to fight against the space alien "bugs", or Dissosterin invaders that have taken over Earth. When he comes across an odd pyramid, he meets an equally odd girl who tells him that the Heart of Darkness is missing from the pyramid, and will spell disaster for them all. Barnaby, Milo's Cajun friend, warns him that the girl might be a Rougaroo-- a werewolf. It's a good guess, because there are all sorts of threats in Milo's world, including Stingers and the Huntsman, both of which are dispatched by the bugs and sent to attack Milo's encampment. The Stingers, huge robotic attack beetles, are the biggest threat, and both the wolves and the witches help Milo fight against them, since the Huntsman goal is to enslave everyone on Earth. and hopes to use the Heart of Darkness to create an endless swarm army.
Strengths: Maberry can certainly write. The prose is beautiful and evocative. The characters are well developed, and there's a good amount of action. The Stingers sound terrifying and gross. There's a good amount of diversity in the characters as well.
Weaknesses: Like this author's Rot and Ruin, this is rather long (400 pages) and a little too philosophical for the middle grade demographic. I had to take notes to keep everything straight. While the world building was okay, I felt that the back story of how the world became dystopian was lacking.
What I really think: If I had a strong core of fantasy fans, I would buy this, but I currently do not have those readers. I'll look at the rest of the series and consider. I did buy the Rot and Ruin series, and lots of readers pick it up; few finish.

22747766McIntosh, Fiona. The Whisperer
April 14th 2015 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Copy received from the publisher

Griff works at Tyren's circus, and is happy building things because it keeps him busy and far away from people... and he can hear their thoughts. When Tyren finds this out, he wants to exploit Griff's talents, but he has also recently taken on Tess and her magical creature menagerie, whom he saved from the Stalkers. Lute is the son of King Rodin, whose brother Janko is in charge of the Stalkers and who really wants to take over the kingdom. He makes an attempt, killing Rodin and attacking Lute, but Lute escapes with the help of his long time aide, Pilo. Griff also escapes, and the two boys realize that they can speak to each other-- Griff hears "the whisperer" and knows what Lute is doing. Eventually, Pilo (who is separated from Lute after an attack) finds Griff, and is convinced he is really Lute! With the help of a number of people, including Calico Grace the pirate and Bitter Olof, the dwarf, Griff and Tyren solve the mystery of their lineage. Can they manage to save the kingdom from Janko as well?
Strengths: Had a The False Prince, John Flanagan sort of feel to it, with a decent amount of adventure and some royal twists. Supporting characters were well-drawn, and both Griff and Lute were likeable. They passed out more than one would expect, but at least they weren't constantly injured like Sage. Best of all, this is a stand alone title, with the fate of all the characters neatly wrapped up in an epilogue. I was able to read this and remember it, which is not the case with all fantasy books.
Weaknesses: No new ground here, with a fairly stock setting and plot. I could foresee a lot of the events even without psychic powers.
What I really think: Since I have a hard cover copy, I'll put it in the collection, but I don't know that I would buy it. Apparently, my lack of fantasy readers has been going on for at least three years. (Given my anti-fantasy rant on The False Prince review!)

Monday, May 18, 2015

MMGM- Fort and The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club.

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.

It's not every day that I read a book and think "Oh, finally. Just a fun, not overly depressing middle grade romp,", but it's such an enormous relief when I do. Even better was the fact that Kirkus Reviews thought the title was good. 

DeFelice, Cynthia. Fort.
May 19th 2015 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Wyatt is visiting a small town for the summer and loves it, because his father doesn't really pay any attention to him and lets him run around with his friend Auggie all day as long as he checks in periodically. Auggie's great aunt and Uncle, Hildy and Heinie, supply food and building materials, along with the occasional calendar featuring scantily clad women. The boys decide to build a fort out in the woods with pieces of an old, pink ice cream stand, and run into some trouble. At first, they think that Gerard, an older boy with special needs, has ransacked the place, but they find out that it's the work of local bullies J.R. and Morrie, who framed Gerard for a fire and generally have abused him. They come up with Operation Doom, a way to get back at the bullies with jars of honey, a flimsy nightgown of Hildy's, and a number of other clever boobie traps.
Strengths: Yes. This. This is what we need more of. A fun adventure book with believable derring-do. I love this author's Under the Same Sky and The Ghost of Fossil Glen, so it's good to see a new title by her! Even the bullying was handled in a realistic way-- J.R. and Morrie were annoying, and Wyatt and Auggie took care of them without undue navel gazing. Huzzah!
Weaknesses: Wyatt's obsession with Aunt Hildy's chest was a bit creepy, but otherwise, I adored this!

22718705Hoose, Phillip. The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club.
May 12th 2015 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)

E ARC from

In this wonderful piece of narrative nonfiction, Hoose brings us the experience of Knud Pedersen in his own words. As a Dane, the teenaged Pedersen was perturbed that his government had caved so easily to the Nazis demands, agreeing to cooperate with the Nazi soldiers in exchange for relative safety. While Norway was fighting the Nazis, it took a while before opposition to the Nazis took hold in Denmark, and that opposition was started by a group of teenagers headed by Pedersen. At first, the boys contented themselves with painting graffiti and doing small amounts of damage to Nazi property, but soon escalated to major acts of arson as well as stealing weapons and accumulating quite an arsenal. When the Danish people saw that not everyone was acquiescing to Nazi demands, the Resistance was able to take off. The Churchill Club, as the group called itself, continued to bedevil the Nazis, although the boys found it difficult to think about actually killing the soldiers. Eventually, the group was found out and arrested, and spent a lot of time in various jails. By this point, however, the Resistance was going full force. Luckily for the boys, they were tried by Danish officials and, in part because of their age, were not sentenced to death.

Based on intensive interviews with Knudsen, as well as Knudsen's amazing archive of photographs and research, this well-researched book tells a riveting tale of people who stood up for what they believed, even though they were very young. I have always been interested in the various resistance groups, especially since most of them utilized my primary source of transportation-- the bicycle!

Since we have been requiring students to read more nonfiction, this is a title I will order eagerly. This was a great length, had amazing primary source information, and was extremely interesting. I am so glad that Hoose followed up on a forgotten e mail with Pedersen, because this was a fantastic book.
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