Wednesday, May 06, 2015

The Friendship Riddle/ The Year of the Three Sisters

22929593Blakemore, Megan Frazier. The Friendship Riddle
May 5th 2015 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens
E ARC from Netgalley.com

Ruth is growing up in a small town in Maine with her Mom, who is a doctor in Rockport, and Mum, who travels a lot with her job as a software trainer. Ruth's former best friend was Charlotte, who lives in an apartment over the town library, which was redesigned by her one father. Her other father works in the library. Charlotte has become pretty and popular, adn would rather be with Melinda than Ruth, who doesn't care what she wears and is still obsessed with the Taryn Greenbottom books by reclusive writer Harriet Wexler. Ruth is invited to a mortifying play date with Lucas (who sounds like he might be on the autism spectrum), and starts to connect with the quirky Lena. She also makes a friend of Coco (Christopher), who offers to help her study for the local spelling bee. The big mystery in Ruth's life centers around a succession of notes found in the library and various other places. These notes seem old, and have a number of riddles that must be solved. With her new friends, Ruth makes pretty good headway on the clues. When dramatic snows ruin the library, she is forced to make an uneasy truce with Charlotte. In the end, an unlikely source is discovered for the notes.
Strengths: Nice diversity that isn't harped on-- two nontraditional families, and Charlotte has been adopted from China. Ruth's friendships develop in an understandable way. Her Mom is pushy about certain things (school lunches, the locker room), and that embarrasses Ruth. The mystery, while improbably, is interesting.
Weaknesses: This would have been a great book to hand to readers of either genders, except that there are lengthy discussions about Ruth wearing a bra and other puberty things that even I don't want to read about. Taking those out would have brought this to a more manageable length as well.
What I really think: I didn't buy that notes had been floating around for 20 years, and that they were dreamt up by someone with whom Ruth was familiar. Taryn Greenbottom? There were also too many details about the spelling bee-- reading lists of words was boring.

22749786Cheng, Andrea. The Year of the Three Sisters
April 7th 2015 by HMH Books for Young Readers

In this fourth book in the series, Anna talks to her best friend, Andee, about trying to get her friend, Fan, to come to the US from China for a student exchange. In a typical Andee fashion, her friend organizes everything for Fan to be able to come over-- passport, school enrollment, money for the flight. What Andee doesn't understand is that in China, Fan works full time because her family are migrant Chinese, and forbidden from going to the "regular" schools in the city. Fan is grateful to be in the US, and studies very hard so that she can improve her family's life. Andee doesn't understand-- why doesn't Fan want to have more fun? Anna, who saw the conditions under which Fan lived in China, knows how hard it is for Fan to be away from her family, and tries to help with her transistion. Will this hurt her friendship with Andee?
Strengths: This was another charming book, and I enjoy these more the older Anna gets. The book shows real concerns treated by everyone in a supportive and helpful fashion. I did buy the other books in the series, and my 6th grade readers have picked them up. Perfect for elementary school, and good for lower lever middle school readers.
Weaknesses: Was a little hard to believe how quickly Fan was able to come to the states, but Cheng does mention all of the difficulties and paperwork that would be involved.
What I really think: Reading a generally upbeat, easy book is such a relief on some days. I would love it if Cheng wrote books with different middle school aged characters. That would make my day!

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Lots of Bots and Ratscalibur

23316871Richards, C.J. Lots of Bots (Robots Rule #2)
May 5th 2015 by Harcourt Brace and Company
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

George is back after The Junkyard Bot, and starting his internship at Tinker Tech. On the bright side, his friend Anne Droid is there; on the down side, so is Patricia Volt and her MeBot Cookie, with whom Jackbot falls instantly in love. George has a series of mishaps that get him assigned to help the OCD Bot clean so he stays out of trouble. Tinker Tech is launching the new MOD device, a sort of less intrusive Google Glass that utilizes contact lenses and an ear bud, but which George discovers is part of an evil plot. His Uncle Otto is distracted because Mr. Freezie has offered him a lot of money for his junk yard, and Jackbot is so besotted that he isn't very helpful. After finding his parents' car in the junk yard and uncovering the symbol for Mercury, George knows he needs to hack into Dr. Micron's computer and find out what really happened to his parents. What he finds certainly gives enough of a plot for a third book!
Strengths: In some ways, this is the perfect middle grade novel. It's goofy but has tech stuff, appeals equally to both genders, has pictures in a notebook novel style, and has an orphan main character. This is generally upbeat in spite of the lack of parents, and has a good deal of action and adventure to boot. Very fun.
Weaknesses: I didn't find Uncle Otto's transformation into a mustard yellow polyester wearing social climber very funny, and it wasn't really all that necessary. I liked his character a lot and thought he supported George well, so his mishaps in this book were just sad to me.
What I really think: Definitely buying. Will never be on the shelves. Amused  me as well.

22749788Buckley, Michael. Undertow.
May 5th 2015 by HMH Books for Young Readers
ARC from Baker and Taylor

Lyric lives in "the zone" on Coney Island, where her school is full of juvenile delinquents and there is a nearby camp of Alpha-- sea creatures that have come to land and are now trying to be integrated into US society, despite extreme prejudice against them, and efforts by protest groups as well as the governor to send them back. Lyric's father is a policeman, and he wants her to be very careful-- her mother is Sirena, and has to stay hidden most of the time. Lyric gets horrible migraines because of her mixed heritage, and when she is approached by the new school principal/CIA type guy to befriend the head of the Alpha, it is an added stress. She and her family would love to leave the Zone, since they are the only mixed Alpha family that remains, and the principal has forged documents for her mother that they badly leave. It's difficult to get away, though, especially since her best friend, Bex, is horribly abused at home and looks to Lyrics family to help her. Will the situation between humans and Alpha ever get resolved? Not right away, because this seems to be a three book series.
Strengths: This certainly drew me in and kept me reading. Lyric and her family were intriguing characters, the setting was very vivid, and there was a lot of excitement and action.
Weaknesses: This was super, super, super depressing. Is Coney Island really that bad? Lyric talks about her school even before the Alpha as being really horrible. Lyric's headaches are horrible. Bex's entire life is horrible.  The Alpha are horrible, and I never felt like there was a good reason for them to come to land. They were desperately unhappy there, very violent within their own community, and the humans hated them. It was like the Little Rock Nine reenacted in Brooklyn with Merpeople who didn't really want to be integrated.
What I really think: Would have thought about purchasing-- fans of Dystopia don't mind super depressing. However, this one comes too close to the YA line for me when it discusses condoms early on in an unnecessary scene with Lyric's crush, so I think I will pass. Intriguing, though.

23281770Lieb, Josh. Ratscalibur
5 May 2015, Razorbill
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Joey and his mother are settling in to the big city, but being down on their luck isn't nearly as difficult a situation as Joey's is when he is turned into a rat, must survive on the streets AND is chosen as the one who will help save the rats from encroaching evil. Fans of Selden's Cricket in Times Square, O'Briens' Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, and especially Jacques' Redwall will enjoy this tale of inner city ratventure.

Interestingly enough, one of our teachers was recommending White's Once and Future King to students, so I'm on an Arthur kick. I don't know about this one, though. Kind of lost me at the spork in the scone, but I strongly suspect my extreme aversion to talking animals is prejudicing me against this. My students love Lieb's I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil, so this may be one of those books I Just Don't Get.

Monday, May 04, 2015

MMGM- The Worst Class Trip EVER



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.


23197599Barry, Dave. The Worst Class Trip EVER.
May 5th 2015 by Disney-Hyperion
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Wyatt and his friend Matt sometimes get into trouble, but not the kind of trouble they manage to find when their 8th grade class travels from Miami to Washington, D.C. on a field trip. The two think that the men sitting behind them in the airplane are terrorists because of comments they make and the fact that one of them doesn't want to relinquish his backpack. The two get into a kerfluffle with the men on the airplane that almost makes their chaperon, Mr. Barto, want to send them back... but nothing really happened, and it's too much trouble to send them. The boys realize, however, that the men know their names AND the name of the tour bus they are on, and since Matt has taken something that turns out to be a radar jammer out of their backpack, they are definitely chasing the boys. They find them, and when the jammer is in the possession of Suzana, the cute girl whom Wyatt likes who is in the room next door, the men take Matt with them. Realizing that his disappearance might set off alarms in the chaperons, Wyatt and Suzana use realistic ruses to cover up his absence. Eventually, they track down Matt's location using the GPS finder on his cell phone and manage to get him out-- only to have another classmate, Cameron, taken hostage. More trouble with Mr. Barto ensues, but the high jinks and sightseeing continue. Eventually, the group realizes that the men they are tracking might actually be the good guys, and Wyatt and his friends have to save the day in a hysterically funny way, since they messed up the good guys' plans.
Strengths: While school elections, dances, bullying and newspapers are WAY overdone in middle grade lit, field trip books are not. This is beyond brilliant, and shows that Barry has either been a chaperon on such a trip or grilled some chaperon mercilessly to get him information. I love Suzana as much as Wyatt does because she "is basically a Navy SEAL disguised as a hot eighth-grade girl". I would LOVE to read more about Wyatt in another book!
Weaknesses: Wyatt points out on too many occasions that his mother is very loud because she is Cuban. While it's nice that Wyatt is half Cuban, this seems to be an overuse of stereotype and made me uncomfortable.
What I really think: If Dave Barry would promise to devote his entire life to writing middle grade fiction, he could come and live in my spare room, and I would bring him meals and do his laundry so he could write ALL THE TIME. The man is brilliant. This book restored my faith in middle grade fiction. I am buying a copy for everyone I know, especially the 8th grade social studies teachers at my school.

22718725Atkinson, Rick. Battle of the Bulge
5 May 2015 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
E ARC from Netgalley.com

Do you have boys who frequent your library who are keenly interested in WWII? There are fewer now than there were, but it is still a topic that inspires a level of fanaticism other topics do not. Our school curriculum no longer covers this era, but the books still circulate well. This new book is a youth oriented reworking of part of this author's Guns at Last Light, just as the companion volume, D-Day, is. 

This is a tremendous resource for readers with an avid interest. Key players are explained, and their motivations examined in minute detail. Military maneuvers are given the same treatment. Plentiful pictures add tremendously to the text. This would be a great starting place for a WWII based History Day project, and is a very readable nonfiction book for those interested in the topic.

That said, it was WAY too much information for me; I have to admit that I skimmed a great deal!

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Wild Hearts

22929522Burkhart, Jessica. Wild Hearts
May 5th 2015 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Brie's family moves to Wyoming, where her land developer father is going to build a hotel. Brie is homeschooled, and misses her older sister, Kate, who is a reporter in California. On their way in to town, traffic is stopped by a bison herd, and a local boy yells at her. This turns out to be Logan, who works several jobs around town to help out his family farm, which is experiencing rough times. Brie loves her new house and is excited about being in a new place, but is worried about local opposition to her father's project, which will wipe out land that wild mustangs have used for years. Logan and his father support the mustangs as well, but the attraction between Brie and Logan is unmistakable, and the two date even though Brie's parents forbid it. The two even manage to spend the night herding steers into the mountains, with the help of one of Brie's new girlfriends. Eventually, Brie and Logan are found out, but they mange to find an unusual way around the problem so that the mustangs are okay and the hotel is able to be built.
Strengths: Brie and Logan are in luuuuuurve, and there's lots of kissing and hand holding, but nothing objectionable. The descriptions of the horses and the scenery are great, and this had a twist to it that I didn't see coming. Other nice touched include Brie and her sister having their mother's name, and their mother having a career as a photojournalist.
Weaknesses: The solution to the mustangs didn't seem quite right to me-- the herd is basically dismantled, gentled, and ready to be sold. But I know nothing about raising horses in the west, so maybe this is okay.
What I really think: This series reads like Harlequin Romances for very young high schoolers, but that's why they are so great-- nothing instructional, and I have a lot of students asking for romances.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

My Life in Dioramas

22928873Altebrando, Tara. My Life in Dioramas
April 28th 2015 by Running Press Kids

Copy received from publisher

Kate enjoys her life in her family's old house. Both of her parents freelance, so there's lots of time for them to do things together. The problems is that they are struggling financially, and decide to sell the large farmhouse and move in with Kate's grandparents, who live about an hour away. Kate is upset because she would have to leave her good friends Stella and Naveen, and she would miss a big dance competition. Stella also dances, and the two have always been close, but Stella wants to train for a solo dance, and starts hanging out with girls that Kate doesn't like. In order to postpone the sale of the house (hopefully indefinitely), Kate works with Naveen to find ways to make the house unattractive to visitors. She fills a bean bag chair with bags of manure, plans lots of noise when showings are to take place, and generally does anything she can to scare off prospective buyers. Knowing her efforts won't put off things forever, she tries to recreate every room in the house in shoebox dioramas. Her parents get a bit more organized, but the house eventually sells.
Strengths: Lots of funny moments, and realistic problems. Moving, mean girls, trouble in school-- those are age-appropriate concerns of middle grade readers, and I like that they are addressed with humor and positive movement.
Weaknesses: A tad on the whiny/sad side, and the art (in the ARC) isn't the type that appeals to my readers.
What I really think: While I'm really fed up with books with dysfunctional parents, Kate's are at least able to hold things together. There was enough humor in this that I will buy it, and readers who like realistic fiction will pick it up, although a peppier cover would help.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Guy Friday- Petlandia

PetlandiaHannan, Peter. Petlandia.
April 28th 2015 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Madame Wigglesworth is fed up with her people after they have the audacity to bring home Grub, a dog, and rub his belly as if it were sacred. After he gets a better Halloween costume than she does, she forms a plan-- the humans must go. With the help of Honeybaked Hamster and Clowny the fish, the humans' bed is pushed out into the yard, and the doors locked against them. All goes well until a vote ends in GRUB being the president. This clearly won't wrok, so Madame brings rats up from the basement to count toward the vote. During her reign, she insists on being waited on hand and paw, so Grub retaliates by bringing in some frogs. This struggle goes back and forth (as no humans appear, and the house gets messier and messier!), and eventually the insect population, especially termites, exceeds the "pet" population.
Strengths: While students will be attracted by the pictures and the goofy pets, I thought this had some interesting messages about power, and had an almost folk tale feel to the story. If all notebook novels made me laugh this much, I wouldn't mind some students being so addicted to them.
Weaknesses: I'm betting on a paper-over-board binding. Sigh. Maybe I'll be wrong, but with the wear these books get, I wish there were old fashioned Gibraltar Bound bindings.
What I really think: I've been looking for notebook novels for my struggling readers, and this is perfect. At 144 pages, with a lot of pictures, this will never be on the shelf and is actually much funnier than something like Hissy Fitz. Madame Wigglesworth is a hoot!

I've always felt conflicted about my "books for boys" focus. I do believe that it is harder to find books for boys-- not as many are written and published. I'm expecting a shipment from Half Price Books of books to pass out to children after all the library books are due, and out of six huge boxes, my bet is that no more than three will be about football or basketball. The vast majority will have pretty girls in ballgowns on the cover.

We are currently doing a Princess in Black promotion where we are trying to fill up the circulation card with ALL BOYS. The girls are welcome to read the book, of course, but we want to mail the card to Shannon Hale to show her that we don't agree that only middle school girls should be invited to here her speak. If I can get 8th grade boys to check out Princess in Black and admit that it's amusing, I will have no trouble getting everyone in the school to read the following:


22504701Jamieson, Victoria. Roller Girl.
March 10th 2015 by Dial Books

In this graphic novel, Astrid and Nicole have been best friends for years, but after Astrid becomes enamored of roller derby and signs up for a summer program, the troubles that the two have had get bigger. Astrid lies to her mother that Nicole is also in the program, choosing to walk home a good distance than admit Nicole's mother can't pick her up. Learning to skate is difficult, and hard work, but Astrid idolizes Rainbow Bite of the Rose City Rollers, so hangs in there and puts in the hard work. She makes new friends, dies her hair, and eventually comes clean to her mother and makes her peace with Nicole.
Strengths: Since students will read books about extreme dental trauma or bratty siblings on a boring car trip if done in this format, this is a no brainer. Sports, friend drama, independence-- all things students like. Wanting to do something that turns out to require a lot of hard work, and a child who is willing to put in that hard work-- something I like! We need more books about students with particular interests and passions. Decent dust jacketed binding as well. It's like Christmas! Buying two copies.
Weaknesses: There were a couple of scenes, like the hair dying, that dragged a bit, but in general this was well plotted, had characters that grew during the book, and rang true.
What I really think: Liked this much better than a lot of graphic novels, although anything that encourages students to dye their hair and glamorizes tattoos is never going to be my personal favorite!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

British Boarding Schools are Dangerous Places

Cover image for Murder is bad manners / (A Wel...Stevens, Robin. Murder is Bad Manners.
21 April 2015, Simon and Schuster BFYR
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Daisy and Hazel attend Deepdean, a girls' boarding school, in 1930s England. Hazel feels a bit out of place, being from Hong Kong, but is thrilled when (after initially being a bit mean) Daisy befriends her and asks her to help with her detective agency. There aren't a lot of things to investigate... until Hazel happens upon the body of the science teacher, Miss Bell, lying bloodied on the gym floor! Hazel runs to get Daisy, but when they return, the body is gone, and the school claims that Miss Bell has gone away. The girls are quick to detail all of the clues, make a list of suspects, and methodically figure out which of the teachers, from Miss Bell's roommate to a dashing young male teacher to a poor drunken Latin mistress who is jealous of Miss Bell. They have to hide their efforts from the staff, but when they accuse one teacher of committing the crime and that teacher later turns up dead, they know that something particularly bad is going on, and they eventually involve law enforcement. Of course, their brilliant detective work is able to solve the crime.
Strengths: The detective work that the girls do is first rate, and clearly inspired by the author's background with Agatha Christie-type mysteries. In a perfect world, reading this book would encourage a tween to pick up Dorothy Sayers. Since it is a murder mystery, and students ask for those so much, I think I will buy it.
Weaknesses: All of my weaknesses are nitpicky. I'm not fond of the bubble gum on the cover-- it would have been fairly new at this time period. There is also one mention of a man using gel in his hair; I would have loved if Brylcreem or Brilliantine or even Macassar oil (my grandmother had honest-to-goodness antimacassars and CALLED them that!) had been mentioned. There are a fair number of historical details, but I just wanted more, I guess.

I also was a bit unsure about Hazel referring to herself as Oriental. With the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement, it's been hammered in to me that that term is only used for rugs and food, and the preferred term today is Asian. I've come to the conclusion that when I was young, I must have been told that using the term Asian was rude and Oriental was more polite, because I find myself slipping and using the term Oriental much too often! In a historical book, using the term used at the time is probably correct; I've just had so much trouble with the term that I bristled at it.

There was also a dismissal of "pashes" being not really love, so people shouldn't be bothered by them. This differs from my understanding of them, so I would rather the term not have been mentioned. The way it's handled seems... odd.

What I really think: Despite my petty objections, I enjoyed this very much. Apparently, any book set in a British boarding school in the first part of the 20th century, especially one illustrated with silhouettes, is one that I want to buy.

23013676Kerr, Esme. The Girl with the Glass Bird
March 31st 2015 by Chicken House (first published May 1st 2014)
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Edie's parents have died, and her grandmother goes blind and is sent to a nursing home, so Edie must go to her aunt's house, where she is miserable, tormented by her cousins who do really evil things like catch and eat her large goldfish. Luckily, her cousin Charles is doing business with the Russian prince Stolonov, whose daughter Anastasia is enrolled in the strict, Luddite Knight's Haddon school but having problems there. Edie is offered a position-- she may go to the school, but must figure out why Anastasia says her possessions go missing, she becomes injured, etc. Edie is glad to get away, and quickly befriends Anastasia, who seems fairly normal, even though odd things do seem to happen to her. Since Anastasia's mother has some mental difficulties, she does worry that she is imagining all of the bad things. There is more intrigue at the school as well-- Edie's mother attended the school, and there was some bad feeling between her and some members of staff. The situation with Anastasia escalates, but Edie is able to figure out that there is a real threat, and it comes from members of staff! Her quick thinking saves the day and insures that she will be able to stay with her new friend at Knight's Haddon.
Strengths: Again, the details of life in a British boarding school, this time a modern day one, are intriguing. The psychological manipulation and scheming surrounding Anastasia are actually more criminal than the cover would indicate.
Weaknesses: The involvement of the mystery with Edie's background complicated an already complicated story.
What I really think: Quite a good mystery, but there are only so many books set in British boarding schools that I can force children to read. I will probably not purchase this one.

20307785Primavera, Elise. Ms. Rapscott's Girls. 
March 10th 2015 by Dial Books

The founder of the Great Rapscott School for the Daughters of Busy Parents (which is more US than British) draws on her own childhood experience as the daughter of scientists to provide what she thinks is the necessary care for five daughters of the busiest parents in the world. Four of these arrive in flying, post paid boxes, and are cleaned up, outfitted with sturdy boots, and sent on an adventure to find the fifth girl, Dahlia, whose box was not properly fastened and who is lost. Bea, Mildred, Fay and Annabelle must try to get hopelessly lost on purpose in order to find her, and have all manner of adventures along the way. Ms. Rapscott provides them with the world's most comfortable beds, proper adventuring attire, and plenty of cocoa. Helping out are the very clever corgis, Lewis and Clark. In addition to solving the mystery of Dahlia, the girls have to learn all of the things that they were missing-- how to brush their teeth, what birthday cakes are, and (most of all) to appreciate adventure.

Accompanied by the author's copious illustrations (ala The Invention of Hugo Cabret, many of them help tell the story), this quirky and charming boarding school balances outings where the girls get swept away by the wind to desolate islands with cozy surroundings like the Bumbershoot tree which keeps them warm and dry. The hunt for Dahlia seems almost leisurely, which is fine, because she is found to be very safe and well cared for. Most of the book is very anecdotal, with etiquette and practical skill sessions interspersed with adventures in all weather... and lots of birthday cake.

The girls really have no choice but to become better people throughout the course of the book, benefiting as they do from the attention of an adult as well as some life lessons.. They are all well delineated, separate characters, and their parenting backgrounds expose their weaknesses. Bea can only get the attention of her parents by screaming. Mildred is used to spending lazy days alone in her pajamas. Fay is a timid soul who is very concerned about the whereabouts of Dahlia, and Annabelle is intellectually precocious. I thought that the story of Ms. Rapscott herself, which is touched upon lightly, was really the most interesting one in the book, and an encounter before the girls are sent home for break leads me to believe that there may be further volumes in this series, and perhaps a romance for the teacher.

Ms. Rapscott's Girls is a happier version of The Series of Unfortunate Events, and will appeal to younger readers who like quirky, unusual adventures away from parents. Mary Poppins, Mrs. Pigglewiggle, Nanny Piggins, Harvey's Alice-Miranda books,and other books with fantastical elements and a good sense of humor are logical companions to this boarding school where much can be accomplished as long as one keeps ones' wits about oneself, ones' mittens on, and ones' appetite supplied with much birthday cake... and the occasional ice cream.

That said, this was so impossibly twee it was hard to finish. Many reviewers have said that their 8-year-old self would have adored this, but their grown up self wanted to scream, and I would have to occur with this. I have no patience for twee, and most middle school students aren't fond of it, either. When trying to define "twee" for my 21 year old daughter, I came up with the title "Little Lucy Sparklepants and the Fluffybunnikins Adventure". Too much sugar!



 
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