Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Fantasy Tuesday:Monnsters, Dystopia and Time Travel... Oh, my!

20518966Lubar, David. The Bully Bug (Monsterific Tales #6)
2 September 2014, Tor Starscape
Copy received from the publisher.

Lud comes from a boisterous family of boys with a Mr. Fix-It father, so when he and his brother find a cereal box in the garbage dump that splits open and sprays bugs all over Lud, he doesn't even mention the bites when he gets home. He does start to notice odd things about himself-- he thinks he is hanging on the ceiling, he sprouts weird, bristly hairs all over himself, he drools everywhere and finds himself inexplicably eating leaves! Classmate Norman finds these changes fascinating (although almost no one else notices) and decides that Lud has been bitten by a mimic beetle. As the transformation progresses, Lud finds himself feeling faint around his father's insecticides and hoping the Norman can find some way to cure him before he transforms completely.
Strengths: This is a fast paced story that expects us to immediately suspend our disbelief. Lots of good, icky descriptions of Lud's metamorphosis, and funny efforts of his family and friends to deal with him. Fans of this series and of the Lawn Weenies books will find lots of repulsive reasons to giggle in horror at this book.
Weaknesses: This didn't seem as connected to the rest of the series as some of the stories (the evil guys from the past don't come after Lud), and I could have done without Lud's nonstandard English, but those are small quibbles for such a fun book.

19522670Perry, Michael. The Scavengers.
2 September 2014, HarperCollins
E ARC from http://edelweiss.abovethetreeline.com

After citizens had to make a decision to live under bubbles in cities or to live all on their own, Maggie's family (mother, father, and younger brother Dookie) decides to try to survive on their own. In time, they found a place where they could farm, scavenge goods from a dump to sell, and where they had helpful neighbors, Toad and Arlinda Hopper. It's tough outside the bubble, because demented humans called Grey Devils roam the countryside, pickled in bootleg hooch and causing problems. Maggie, who spends a lot of her time living in a broken down Ford Falcon a short distance from the house and has rechristened herself after the car, is a bit fed up with her family, especially Dookie, who has severe developmental delays that no one explains to her. Her father is acting suspicious, and her mother is not fond of the hardships the family has to face, but when Maggie returns home after a night at the Hoppers and finds her family gone, she wants to look for them. Dookie shows up, but sheds no light on the events, but when Maggie identifies one of the shambling Grey Devils as her father, she learns a lot of secrets about her family and the world that exists inside the bubbles.
Strengths: This had a The Boxcar Children meets The Hunger Games vibe, making it an excellent choice for younger readers who want to wallow in dystopia. The details about going through the garbage and finding things to sell and eking out a living outside the bubble was fascinating. Maggie was a well developed character, and her parents added a very interesting and deep facet to the book that children may not quite appreciate, but which makes this a good choice for older readers, too.
Weaknesses: The quirky Southern-ish vibe made this personally painful for me, but I will probably buy a copy because I need so many dystopian books. If I had to live off the grid next door to Toad Hopper, I would probably just throw myself in front of the next Grey Devil. He speaks in pig Latin, Spoonerisms, and such a wide range of vocal affectations that it's hard to understand what he is saying. When there is an emergency, you'd think he would drop it, but he doesn't. Students will not be as annoyed with this as I was, and the whole mystery surrounding the father and his part in creating the dystopian was very clever.

18222716 Milford, Kate. Greenglass House
26 August 2014, Clarion Books
E ARC from Netgalley.com

While Milo enjoys living with his adoptive parents in a hard to get to hotel that caters to smugglers, he was hoping that things would be slow over Christmas break. When guest after guest arrives, however, Milo's parents recall the cook, and Milo finds himself having to work and entertain the cook's daughter, Meddy. There is something mysterious about the guests, as well as a map that Milo finds, and Meddy proposes a Role Playing Game set in the house. Milo takes on the new identity of Negret, inventing a background that is unlike his own. Meddy becomes Sirin, and the two explore the wonderfully quirky house. The guests have items go missing, and the two children are able to investigate these real mysteries in the context of their game, and uncover even more information about the house's past, as well as the past of some of the guests.
Strengths: The house is absolutely fantastic, as is the cover. Being snowbound anywhere is always something I love to read about in a story.
Weaknesses: I found it annoying that Milo and Meddy were sometimes referred to as Negret and Sirin, and sometimes were referred to as both on the same page.I can see why this was done, but it wasn't completely necessary. This got a bit convoluted and long, as well. This type of story is a hard sell in my library, although I'm rather fond of them, so I'm still debating.

Note: This is definitely a fantasy, because 340 pages in, it is clear that a character is actually a ghost!

Monday, September 01, 2014

MMGM- The Contract

Jeter, Derek and Mantell, Paul. The Contract.
September 2nd 2014 by Simon & Schuster
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Third grader Derek is given an essay by his teacher. He is to write about his dreams and goals, and he states that he will one day be a shortstop for the Yankees. His classmates jeer at him a little, even his friend Vijay, who is on his baseball team, but that doesn’t stop Derek from working toward his goal by doing well in school and working hard on the baseball field. Derek’s parents support him, but make it very clear that he can have lofty dreams, but has to put in the effort to achieve them. To help him, they draw up a contract for him to sign that delineates their expectations for his behavior. The Tigers Little League team is fun for Derek and Vijay, but when the new coach, Kozlowski, favors his son Pete, it is a test of Derek’s character. Not only is Pete given the coveted role of shortstop, but his bratty tactics are mainly ignored by his father. Derek is very concerned about the team, sometimes at the expense of his schoolwork, but he knows that he not only has to do his best despite obstacles on the baseball field, he has to keep his focus on doing well in school.
Strengths: Paul Mantell always does a great, well-balanced sports story, and this is no exception. There’s enough baseball play-by-plays to confuse me, some interpersonal turmoil, and a lot of information about being a good person cloaked in an interesting story. I loved the supportive and hard working parents—the father was in graduate school. This is supposed to be a series of ten, based on the principles of Jeter’s Turn 2 Foundation.
Weaknesses: I will buy this one even though Derek is portrayed as being in 3rd grade; he acts much older, especially with the homework discussed! Perhaps the plan is for the character to get older in each book, which would be fine. There was one slight historical inaccuracy if this book is indeed based on the life of Jeter, who was born in 1974. An eight track tape player is lauded as the newest thing, but by the time Jeter would have been 8, they would have already been dinosaurs.

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. 

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Charlie Bumpers vs. The Squeaking Skull

Harley, Bill. Charlie Bumpers vs. The Squeaking Skull
1 September 2014, Peachtree Publishers
Copy provided by publisher through Armchair BEA contest!

Charlie is ready to go trick-or-treating with his friends... if only he can figure out a good costume, a way to NOT have to take his annoying four-year-old sister Squid, and how he can avoid watching the scary movie at his friend's sleepover that night. With the help of an eccentric art teacher, he manages to make his own bat costume out of two broken umbrellas, and his brother Matt tries to help him get used to scary things by telling him creepy stories at night. Meanwhile, Alex's mother decides that the movie is way too scary for the boys, but the somewhat evil Kyle claims to have a copy that he can bring. Other fun subplots include Tommy's insistence that he needs to glue hair to his face in order to be a convincing werewolf!
Strengths: The more I read of Charlie, the more I like him for a good series for younger readers. Figuring out what to be for Halloween and worrying about what friends will think if movies scare you are two very valid elementary school concerns. I don't know if I will buy this third book (Halloween is a completely different affair in middle school), but it is certainly a must have for elementary libraries.
Weaknesses: Credulity stretcher in this was an elementary school allowing costumes! Even when my own children were small, this was never allowed, unless the school theme was "Bats and Snakes" and they were allowed to dress like animals. Maybe this still happens; it certainly did when I was in elementary school!

Other titles in this series include Charlie Bumpers vs. The Teacher of the Year, and Charlie Bumpers vs. The Really Nice Gnome.

18509627 Cheaney, J.B. Somebody on this Bus is Going to be Famous
September 2nd 2014 by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
E ARC from Netgalley.com

The students on Mrs. B's bus all have a variety of concerns in their lives, and going through the months of the school year, we get to know more about them. Shelley is bound and determined to be a famous singer, but her mother's pregnancy means there is no extra money to send her to camp. Bender's mother is a high powered real estate agent, and he struggles to live up to his older brother's accomplishments. Kaitlyn is inspired by the Salvation Army kettles and takes up a collection on the bus for a family in need. There are several mysteries that surface during the year-- the empty bus stop, what happened at the high school graduation in 1985, and various secrets about the families of the riders that intertwine.
Strengths: Can't say I've read any books that take place primarily on the school bus, so this was a nice twist. Readers who enjoyed the different perspectives of Because of Mr. Terupt will like this tale which portrays many of the family difficulties that students face today.
Weaknesses: The happy cover of this belies the very, very depressing nature of the vast majority of the stories. I was fine with that until the end of the book, when there was even more tragedy-- it was too many different sad situations put together for my taste.

18170137 Christopher, Matt. (Peters, Stephanie True) Perfect Game (Little League #4)
March 4th 2014 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Okay, I have to admit that sometimes, sports books don't stick with me. While I enjoyed the other books in the series, all I really got from this one was that the cousins lived on opposite coasts, somebody was now getting along better with the DiMaggio boy, the players had lucky superstitions, and they figured out what kind of pitch people would throw by watching tapes of games. And they played a lot of baseball. This series has done very well, especially with the bright new covers. Here's a summary from Goodreads.com

Two weeks of intense competition remain to decide the final teams for the Little League® World Series. This year, the anticipation is high as it's possible that both of the previous final two teams will return, a very rare occurrence. And those are the teams Carter and Liam now play for! These two players, one from each team, are thinking the same thought: How can I play against my best friend?

This is the fourth book in a five-book series that follows Liam and Carter as they work their way to the Little League® World Series. The final book in the series will coincide with the Little League® 75th Anniversary in 2014.

Also found out that Dale Christopher is retired from teaching and now travels to schools to give talks about his dad's writing career, which is awesome. I do think that the books should not say that "Matt Christopher IS the bestselling author"... since Matt Christopher died in 1997, it's time to acknowledge publicly that other people write for the Matt Christopher franchise.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Saturday Morning Cartoons-- The Pilkey Line

It's not your imagination-- there were six years between book #8 and book #9, but now they are coming at a fast and furious rate, with book 12 , Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-a-Lot, coming out in August of 2015. There will also be a Dreamworks movie coming out in January 13 2017, 20 years after the initial publication of the series!

Mr. Pilkey, of course, is fantastic, and really understands that he is writing for children and makes no pretenses of wanting to write something literary that language arts teachers will feel a need to foist upon students. He includes lots of things that make ME laugh, although flip-o-rama on an e reader just doesn't work. Captain Underpants is brilliant on so many levels, but one of the things I especially appreciate is the wide age range to which it appeals. Kindergarteners can enjoy it, but so can middle school students and even high school students, so I'm not sure why I use the phrase "The Pilkey Line" to refer to a demarcation between what elementary students and middle school students will read, since who doesn't like Captain Underpants?

That said, I am hoping that the series wraps up soon. I'd like to see Mr. Pilkey do something else that would appeal to middle grade readers, and the books make me nostalgic for the past, which is silly and not constructive.

20578969Pilkey, Dav. Captain Underpants and the Tyrannical Retaliation of the Turbo Toilet 2000 (Captain Underpants #11)
August 26th 2014 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Netgalley.com

I loved that early on in the book the events of previous books are recapped, and we are issued the reassurance that it's okay if we are confused-- everyone in the book is, too! However, I was able to get a pretty good grasp of this one. George and Harold come back from their previous adventures exhausted, and manage to sleep through tests, which results in Harold being retained in the fifth grade, Mr. Krupp's evil plan to separate him from George. The then use the robosquid time travel pants to go back and take the tests, but accidentally create two of themselves, which results in problems. When all four George and Harolds show up at school, teacher think they are dreaming, strip off their clothes in order to dance around the school, and get carted off, including Captain Underpants, leaving no one to fight off the Turbo Toilet 2000. Eventually, Cracker's eggs (which the boys put in the
 treehouse at the beginning of the story) hatch and release Hamsterdactyls, who manage to defeat it.
Strengths: So many funny things! Nana and Timmy's explanation of the big fight scene was my favorite-- they seem to be a recurring thing, although I don't really remember them in previous books! the Hamsterdactyls are adorable, and the teachers stripping off their clothes-- why is this so funny? Oh, right. I've become a 12 year old boy in my reading habits, which is why I will never be asked to serve on the Newbery committee. Oh, well!
Weaknesses: Seriously, who would ever want to ban these? Weird people who don't understand children, that's who!

20578975Bass, Patrick Henry. The Zero Degree Zombie Zone
August 26th 2014 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Netgalley.com

Bakari Katari Johnson would like to be elected hall monitor, but he is shy and classmate Tariq is always chosen. He gets up enough courage to decide to run, only to have Tariq's friend Keisha give him a hard time. Then, out of the blue, ice zombies appear in the school hallway and demand their ring back. Bakari has no idea what they're talking about... until he sees the ring on Keisha's finger. In order to obtain the ring, he trades a marble that he got from his grandfather, who has passed away. His friend Wardell, trying to be helpful, lets Tariq and Keisha know how important the marble is to Bakari, so they have more power over him. Still, Keisha (who found the ring in the hall that morning) seems to have more of a clue how to harness the ring's power. The four classmates manage to get enough hall passes to keep the ice zombies at bay, and eventually manage to dispatch them, using the power of the ring and Bakari's marble. 
Strengths: This seems to be designed to appeal to the Captain Underpants demographic, and has great pictures, goofy situations, and African American characters on the cover, which is fantastic. It probably has more appeal on the elementary side of the Pilkey line.
Weaknesses: This is very message heavy, with the bullying and election, and that's not really want readers of this type of book are looking for. I doubt that any schools have students be hall monitors any more because of liability issues and the fact that a lot of school have School Resource Officers. There wasn't a a great explanation of where the ice zombies came from, either. Still, I can see this being a big seller in elementary book fairs.

You know, even more props to Dav Pilkey. Captain Underpants has been culturally diverse since 1997!

Sherry, Kevin. The Yeti Files #1: Meet the Bigfeet
September 30th 2014 by Scholastic Press 
E ARC from Netgalley.com

This came down on the elementary side. I was hoping for a notebook novel (since it's 128 pages), but it read more like the world's longest picture book. I also was not entirely convinced of the Yeti culture. 

Authentic Yeti culture. Sigh. Sometimes I wonder about my job! And me! 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Guy Friday- Blood in the Water

20578890London, C. Alexander. Blood in the Water (Tides of War #1)
August 26th 2014 by Scholastic Paperbacks 
E ARC from Netgalley.com

Cory has tried to get into the Navy SEALS, but wasn't able to hack training. Instead, he is part of the Navy's Marine Mammals Program and has trained a dolphin named Kaj to hunt bombs and other items under water to make the seas safer for the Navy, if not for Kaj! Unfortunately, Cory is still struggling with an event in his life. While out surfing, he and his younger brother Aaron were attacked by sharks. Cory was okay, but Aaron spent three days in the hospital, and Cory feels responsible. He is scared of being in the open waters, scared that sharks will again be a danger, even though he knows that the statistical probability is low. Cory and Kaj are sent to the Sea of Japan and are assigned to retrieve a sensitive piece of equipment that has been lost in North Korean territory. Cory, nervous about everything and feeling that the Navy SEALS know about his failure and are laughing at him, is still determined to make sure that Kaj does the job he was trained to do so he can prove himself to the Navy, but he also wants to keep Kaj safe. Major Landon is sceptical about the "fish" doing a good job, but he is impressed by Cory and Kaj's skills. The mission runs unto trouble, though, when a North Korean trawler turns out to be more than it seems. Men are killed and military security is at stake, and only Cory and Kaj have the abilities needed to save the day. 
Strengths: Like the fabulous Dog Tags books, this shows a ton of research into little known military practices. I can't find the post related to Travis Jonker's assertion that all MG books should be 200 pages of less that claimed that there should be no more World War II middle grade books, but I still have so many readers who want war books, and this is just perfect! It's modern, has lots of suspenseful military action, cool dolphin tactics, and Cory is afraid. Not only is he afraid, but Landon tells him that's okay-- he'd be crazy if he weren't. But Cory is also brave and very loyal to Kaj. This was superb.
Weaknesses: PAPERBACK??? The life of a paperback in my library is about three circulations. Hardcover or prebind is the only way to go, and prebinds take a while. In some cases, they are never available. I would buy two hardcover copies of each of the Tides of War and Dog Tags series books if they were only available! There is not enough clear tape in the world to reinforce paperbacks to make them hold up to being toted around by the average 6th grader!

22323699London, C. Alexander. Honor Bound (Tides of War #1)
6 January 2015, Scholastic Paperbacks.

From Goodreads.com
"A notorious Somalian pirate sails the Arabian Sea, leading a band of deadly thieves and mercenaries on an international crime spree. When they take American hostages aboard a cargo ship, they've finally gone too far -- and a special task force of Navy SEALs and Marines is called in to help. SEALs, Marines . . . and a talented sea lion named Sly.

As Sly's handler, young sailor Felix has two important jobs. Job one is to get Sly to plant a beacon so that the U.S. strike force can follow the pirates back to their haven. Job two is to keep the sea lion safe and out of combat. But when the mission goes wrong and the pirates get the upper hand, Felix and Sly end up right in the middle of the action . . . with dozens of innocent lives at stake."

Thursday, August 28, 2014

How to Fall

17934525Casey, Jane. How to Fall (Jess Tennant #1)
August 26th 2014 by St. Martin's Griffin 
ARC from Baker and Taylor

After a bitter divorce, Jess' mother decides to return to the town of her childhood for a vacation and to visit with her twin sister whom she has not seen in many years. Unfortunately, Jess' cousin, Freya, died the previous summer in a fall off a cliff that may or may not have been accidental.The big problem? Jess looks freakishly like her dead cousin, which makes her entrance into the teen society of the small town turned tourist haven a bit awkward. She meets Freya's friends Will and Darcy, who are a bit shocked at first but realize that, personality wise, Jess is nothing like Freya. Her cousins, Hugo and Petra, are also glad to finally meet their cousin, and have come to terms (as much as they can) with their sister's death. Even Freya's mother, Tilly, encourages Jess to look at Freya's room in order to get to know her cousin posthumously, and even arranges for Jess to have a summer job at the same charity shop where Freya worked. Through Darcy, Jess meets the fantastically mean Natasha, who is interested in Ryan. Jess stands up to Natasha, going so far as to flirt with Ryan just to make a point. Jess is bothered by the circumstances of Freya's death, and starts to investigate. The local policeman happens to be Will's father, who at one point dated Jess' mother, so that adds an extra layer of awkwardness. In the end, Jess does figure out what happened to Freya, and her mother decides to stay in Port Sentinel at least for the coming school year. I'm looking forward to the second book, Bet Your Life, and hope it is published in the US.
Strengths: This was a great British mystery; there are so many television programs like this, but so few mystery books that make their way across the pond. Definitely a great purchase for high school, but since so many students ask for murder mysteries, I think I'll get this for my middle school library as well.

I have to admit that this was a difficult book for me to pick up, since it started with Freya's death on the cliff. However, I was glad to see a realistic portrayal of a family continuing on after a tragedy. Yes, Tilly has some moments, and has kept Freya's room intact for almost a year, but there's no one unable to get out of bed, or sobbing ceaselessly. It's not a good situation, but the family makes the best of things and moves on. This was a huge relief to read; I can't tell you. When Jess and her mother decide to stay in town, Tilly even decides to have Jess move into Freya's room and make it her own.
Weaknesses: A bit more romance would have made this an easier sell to my more mature readers,  but maybe there will be more in the sequel.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

#WeNeedDiverseBooks Wednesday--Turtle of Oman

19321409Nye, Naomi Shihab. The Turtle of Oman.
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline
August 26th 2014 by Greenwillow Books 

Aref’s father is a scientist, and his mother is a professor of English. Since the two are going to study at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, the family will be moving there. Aref knows that it will be a big adventure, but the week between saying goodbye to his father at the airport and the day that he and his mother leave is a difficult one. He must say goodbye to neighbors, his best friend, his grandfather, and he must pack one suitcase to take with him. During his preparations, he visits different places in his neighborhood, including a neighbor who is 100 years old and will be 103 when he returns, and spends a couple of days with his grandfather fishing while his mother takes care of loose ends in Muscat. At the end of the week, Aref has finally packed and is ready to set off for the United States.
Strengths: Nye is a wonderful writer (I’m a huge fan of her poems), and she does a good job of capturing not only Aref’s emotions about moving but of describing his environment in Muscat in a way that underlines those emotions. This would be a good choice to read to a child who was moving—surely, most moves within a country are not nearly as difficult as moving into an entirely new culture.
Weaknesses: I would have like to see Aref make the trip to the US and experience life in Michigan. It was interesting to find out about life in Oman, but it also would have been intriguing to see what Aref thought of life in the US.
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