Sunday, July 27, 2014

MMGM--One Man Guy

If you're a middle grade aficionado, you know how difficult it is to get middle grade appropriate LGBTQA books. So many of the LGBTQA books that I come across have excessive drinking or drug use as well as a level of sexuality I would find inappropriate for middle school students no matter what the orientation of the participants was. I didn't buy Better Nate than Ever because there is ZERO interest in Broadway plays at my school, but I'm always looking for books that involve skateboarding, even tangentially, so I was glad on a number of levels to find this book.

18465591Barakiva, Michael. One Man Guy
May 27th 2014 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR

Alek's parents are making him go to summer school because he will have to go into a regular track of coursework without the extra effort, and this is not acceptable to his high achieving Armenian family.  He'd much rather spend his summer hanging out with his best friend Becky, even though they did share an awkward kiss. When he meets Ethan in summer school, he is drawn to his devil-may-care attitude. The two hang out together, ditching school and having a day out on the cheap in New York City. Alek takes offense when Ethan uses the term 'faggot' and tells him that he can't be friends with someone who degrades others with that terminology; Ethan replies that he can use the term because he himself is gay. After telling Alek about his first relationship and spending a lot of time together, the two decide they like each other. They continue their trips into the city, which gets Alek in trouble with his parents after they spend a week out of town because he cut class in order to do that. Complicating family matters is also his brother, who finds out that his girlfriend is half Turkish, motivating him to break up with her because so many family members were lost in the Armenian genocide. Eventually, the parents come around not only to their sons' romantic interests, but also to Alek's reduced academic aspirations.
Strengths: I really liked all of the details of Armenian culture, from the recipes to the historical references. The New York City setting is more interesting to an outsider than many I have read. Alek's relationship with Ethan is middle grade appropriate. I liked how they really were friends before they became romantically involved. And it involves skateboarding! Buying a copy.
Weaknesses: Showed this to a straight male friend and said "Would you have read this as a middle school student? What's it about? Pretend you're 12." His answer was basically "no". It looked like it was about gay characters, which didn't interest him, and if his friends had seen him reading it, they would have made fun of him. And that would be why this is the sort of book that is often stolen more than it is checked out. Since I have made a big push for #WeNeedDiverseBooks lately, I am hoping that I can recommend this to students on the basis of it being an interesting book about adventures in New York City from the point of view of a boy who is Armenian and also gay. I recommend books about ethnically diverse characters to all of my students. Why not share books about characters who might differ from (or be the same as) them in other ways without specifying which I think might be the case?

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 at Anastasia Suen's blog. 

The Bridge from Me to You

18520398Schroeder, Lisa. The Bridge from Me to You
July 29th 2014 by Point
E ARC from

Lauren has moved to a small town in Oregon to live with an aunt and uncle who run a bookstore and have three small children. Her mother was not particularly effective, and there has been a bad incident in the past involving Lauren’s half-brother that continues to upset her greatly. Colby is a local football hero who likes to hang out with his best buddy Benny and lives with his father and grandparents. When the two meet, they feel an instant attraction but aren’t quite sure how to connect. They dance around the issue for a while, finally try to date, and then Benny is badly injured in an accident. Colby is grief stricken, and it puts him off his game, so his father becomes demanding. Lauren is in therapy, and dealing with the incident with her brother, but enjoying being in a loving family. Eventually, the two decide to hang out as friends, and do things like have a bake sale to raise money for Benny, but that’s unsatisfactory. The two decide that they will go out, and Lauren’s mom decides to move far away from the west coast, and asks Lauren to go with her. Through it all, Colby and Lauren just want their lives to settle down long enough so that they can be together. Will it ever happen?
Strengths: I do enjoy Schroeder’s middle grade novels, and while this is more YA, it is appropriate for younger readers. The “dark secret” from Lauren’s life isn’t that bad, and the relationship is chaste. I needed a lot more romances this past year, so will definitely buy a copy, especially since this has a sad, Fault in Our Stars kind of feel to it.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Shipwreck Island

18525730Bodeen, S.A. Shipwreck Island.
July 29th 2014 by Feiwel & Friends
E ARC from

Sarah is so irritated with her father: how dare he get remarried to a woman he has met online, and move her and her two sons, Marco and Nacho, into their California home. Having all of them go on the "honeymoon" together doesn't help, especially when adding three people to the package results in the group having to stay in a disgusting hotel  and sharing a bed with her new stepmom. If only Sarah knew... the "luxury yacht" that they've booked is a worn out old boat, and when a storm hits, the family ends up stranded on a rather unnerving island. There's an abandoned house, but no sign of other people, and lots of disturbing things occur while the group is trying to rally forces to survive until they are rescued.
Strengths: Good details on survival on an island, decent description of the difficulties of blending a family.
Weaknesses: I adore Bodeen's taut, psychological thrillers, and this had the air of being an old manuscript that got dusted off when her other books were successful. Sarah had an inordinately high slappage factor, and the clawed kangaroos and four winged birds on the island need a lot more explanation. Since this is supposed to be a four book series, there's plenty of time for that, as well as for the family to learn to get along.
Deaths: Sarah's mother, six years ago; the boat captain, in the storm.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Guy Friday-- Snap Decision

17070782Whitaker, Nathan. Snap Decision (Game Face)
July 1st 2014 by Zonderkidz 

Good friends Chase and Tripp both go to Archie F. Carr School, a small school in Florida, where 7th graders are allowed to play on the Varsity football team if they are good enough. When a number of seniors participate in a Senior Skip Day after being told not to, they get their chance. There's a lot going on in their lives-- Chase and his sister Hannah are being raised by a busy single mother, and Tripp's dad is a recruiter for a local university football team. There are various crushes and a friendship with an upperclassman, JB, whose family is very religious. When Tripp sustains a bad head injury during a game, Chase knows he needs to make sure Tripp gets proper medical treatment, even though it makes Tripp angry with him.
Strengths: Since there are never enough football books and this has a great cover, I'll definitely purchase this one. Enough football plays as well as references to teams that this will be popular.
Weaknesses: This did not draw me in as football books usually do, and there is a note from the author at the back explaining that this is his first foray into middle grade fiction. This is certainly a good start, but there were some parts that could have been better.

There need to be MANY more sports books for middle grade readers than fantasy books, so I would not want to dissuade any sports writers from attempting books for this age? I know that there are a few aspiring authors who read this blog, I offer the following (hopefully) constructive criticisms:

1. Many readers of sports books are struggling readers. Not all, but many. This book had a lot of characters, and they weren't well differentiated, which may confuse some readers.
2. The plot doesn't emerge until later in the book. I kept waiting to see what the hook would be, and it appears to have been Tripp's concussion. This needs to happen earlier on.
3. Real people and places are mixed in with the fictional ones. Maybe readers won't care, but there was a band and singer mentioned frequently enough that I had to do an internet search to find out if they were real. Coaches, teams, players (Mo Isom? Apparently a real person.), scientists-- too many things that seemed real enough rather than fictional that it bothered me. But then there was one team-- the Cleveland Rockers-- that seemed made up, since it was football rather than the women's basketball team of a few years back. Perhaps this is a problem of moving from nonfiction to fiction, but it slowed the story down. I also had to look up whether 7th graders are actually allowed to play high school varsity ball, because that seemed wrong to me. Apparently, it can be in smaller divisions with k-12 schools.
3. Don't include math problems in a book. Even if it's about cheating on a math test. It made me stop and wonder what was going on. I put down the book. Not a reaction we want from readers.
4. Religion is okay if it makes sense. I'm not a huge fan of religious diatribe, but in the case of JB and his family, it makes sense. When Chase quotes Job, that seemed out of character.
5. The first paragraph of every chapter is in bold print. Why? I found myself reading these paragraphs more carefully, but they didn't seem to be more explanatory or different from the rest of the chapters.

I do like the notes on concussions at the end; that's good information to include in a book.

Middle grade sports fiction is probably the toughest type of book to write. You have to appeal to the struggling readers and make the story clear cut and action packed, but you have to factor in the higher readers and give them enough to make the story interesting.  This is certainly a good try, but I hope that the next book (this seems like it will be a series, given the "Game Face" series title above the title) is put together a bit differently.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Creepy Reads (Lubar and Snicket)

18490550Lubar, David. The Gloomy Ghost
July 8th 2014 by Starscape (first published February 1998)
Copy received from publicist

Rory is going to be in big trouble for breaking the family television-- or he would, if he hadn't hidden outside in the yard and eaten a poisonous berry. Given that he goes toWashington Irving Elementary School and his friends have been turned into monsters in previous books, it's not a surprise that Rory turns into a ghost. At first, being a ghost is kind of cool, especially when he finds a ghost puppy, but when he visits Winston House and talks to other ghosts there, he finds out that he has two hours to alert his family and help them find his body and get help, or he will be a ghost permanently. When he helps a victim of Madame Zonga's bad fortune telling by manifesting himself so that living people can see him, the ghost of Josiah Winston is very interested in having Rory help him as a poltergeist, but when Rory almost has a run in with a Teridakian who is sucking up ghosts, he knows that it is more important to keep living.
Strengths: These Monsterific Tales are really meant for younger readers (Rory is a kindergartener), but they are also a good choice for reluctant middle school readers who want a book that they can finish quickly. For them, this is pleasantly creepy in a funny way; for younger readers, I would imagine that these would be a little scarier, since they might be afraid that they would turn in to ghosts. For whatever reason, children like to be scared, and I love that Mr. Lubar remembers this from his own childhood and writes his fun tales accordingly.
Weaknesses: This could have been a little bit scarier. Not often I say that!

18295854Snicket, Lemony. File Under: 13 Suspicious Incidents (All The Wrong Questions #2.5)
April 1st 2014 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers 
E ARC from

The characters from Stain'd-By-The-Sea appear in a collection of short mysteries that are investigated by Lemony Snicket, ala Encyclopedia Brown. Granted, the mysteries are a bit odder than those in Sobol's Idaville. Stories cover a range of weird things, like pictures that fall off a wall, items that go missing, all in the typical Snicket-esque, non sequitur sort of way. Most of the characters from the All the Wrong Questions series are presented, but the thing that stood out the most to me (since my inability to recall short stories is compounded by my inability to understand Lemony Snicket-- I get sidetracked by thinking "What did VFD stand for? And why did I read all 13 books about the Baudelaires and still not find that out?") was the answers to the mysteries at the back of the book. When I was in early elementary school, my mother and I would read Encyclopedia Brown books together and try to figure out the mysteries before turning to the back-- I didn't do so well trying to figure out these, but I could see them being used to good advantage in a language arts classroom where they were studying mysteries.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Fire Wish #WeNeedDiverseBooks Wednesday

 And look how organized I am! There is an interview with Ms. Lough today at Fearless Fifteeners!

16123804Lough, Amber. The Fire Wish (The Jinni Wars #1)
July 22nd 2014 by Random House Children's
E ARC from

Najwa is a jinni still working on her skills, but when she manages to magic herself into the palace (which is supposed to be protected by wards), her teacher is very impressed and hastens her joining the Eye of Ilbis spy group. She is going to be sent to the palace to spy of Kamal, the prince, in order to collect intelligence for the war between the humans and the jinn. Zayale is a pretty girl from a remote mountain village. She is grateful to the government for keeping her village safe from jinn after the death of her aunt and uncle years ago, but not grateful enough to be married off! When she is traveling to Baghdad to be married, she catches Najwa apparating, grabs hold of her, and wishes that she could go home and that the jinni could take her place. Najwa has to grant the wish, and since she bears a strong resemblance to Zayele, accompanies Zayele’s cousin to the capital and prepares to marry the prince. Zayele finds herself deep in the lair of the jinn and tries her best to remain undetected. The war between the two groups is ramping up, however, even though the prince thinks they should get along. Secrets are revealed about both girls and their ties to the war, and the intrigue is just beginning.
Strengths: This had some very interesting twists in it that I did not see coming! I liked both girls, and found the world building to be solid. There is a nice romance. Definitely a different sort of fantasy, with its Baghdad setting.
Weaknesses: I wish there were some more information about the mythological characters involved in this story. Since it’s not the omnipresent Celtic mythology I found myself with a lot of questions.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Timeslip Tuesday

 I normally review things right around the date they are published, but this is early for two reasons: I wanted to give people time to read the first book in this series AND to request this from Netgalley. If you are a teacher, librarian, blogger, or other "professional reader" and DON'T use Netgalley, you should definitely check it out. There are always a lot of middle grade and young adult digital ARCs, and it's a life saver when I run out of things to read.

And, of course, summer is a fantastic time to time travel. Charlotte at Charlotte's Library is frequently taking off for other times and places with her Timeslip Tuesday feature.

20613605Barrows, Annie. Magic in the Mix (Miri and Molly #2)
September 16th 2014 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens
E ARC from

Molly has settled in to life with Miri's family having been rescued from 1935, but the two girls still wonder why they seem to be the only ones who realize and remember what has happened. For everyone else, the family has always had three sets of twins. When their father decides to renovate the house and removes a rickety back porch, the girls discover that the door has become a portal to 1918, and the girls meet a younger version of the evil Flo and also Molly's mother. To complicate matters, they also get sucked back in time to the Civil War, which was raging in their area of Shenandoah, Virginia. Their purpose seems to be to save a couple of soldiers' lives, but when their brothers Robbie and Ray travel to the past with them, they become the captives and it is up to Molly and Miri to figure out how to save them, perhaps with help from 1918.
Strengths: This has everything a time travel book could want-- magic, rambling farmhouse; criticial historical juncture, the promise of further travels. Also, what ten year old doesn't want to have a twin? And siblings who are twins? So many good things here.
Weaknesses: Our eighth graders are the ones who study the Civil War, and this cover is not going to appeal to that age group, who might otherwise find that time period interesting.

185116617613196Barrows, Annie. The Magic Half
December 26th 2007 by Bloomsbury Children's Books

I seem to remember picking this up and being surprised that I didn't like it, but I have absolutely no record of this, so maybe I just imagined it. Hard to believe that I wouldn't like this story. 

Review by Charlotte of Charlotte's Library.

Perhaps I didn't buy it because the covers are not good. Time travel books are difficult to get my students to read, and all of these covers are sort of washed out and...meh. I will buy both of these, now because I do think it is a good time travel series, but I wish the covers were more dynamic and appealing.

Monday, July 21, 2014

MMGM- Secrets of the Manor

Confession: When I was in elementary and middle school, I wanted to live in an English orphanage. I liked my parents well enough, but adored Edward's Mandy as well as Carlson's Happy Orphelines, and was sure that an English orphange would be awesome. I hadn't read much about English manor houses (except for the Chronicles of Narnia, and England was NOT the point of those!), but loved Sayers' Lord Peter Mysteries in college. Downton Abbey was a natural progression for me, but now I'm deep into season two of Larkrise to Candleford. I am predisposed to like the following series!

18775448Whitby, Adele. Beth's Story (Secrets of the Manor #1)
June 24th 2014 by Simon Spotlight

In 1914, Beth is looking forward to celebrating her 12th birthday because she will be considered a young lady and recieve an heirloom locket, the twin of which her cousin and penpal Kate in America will get. Another cousin, Gabrielle, and her family are visiting from France for the occasion, but Gabrielle and her snooty maid are causing all sorts of difficulties, especially when Gabrielle's own heirloom necklace is missing. The blame is pinned to Beth's new lady's maid, Shannon, whom Beth pulled from the ranks of housemaids to assist her, even though other maids had more experience. Since Shannon is going to be dismissed unless Beth can figure out what really happened, Beth investigates and finds out what really happened. This is the first book in the series; in the second, Beth travels to America to visit her cousin Kate.
Strengths: This is a short (148 pages), appealing book that girls will be apt to read themselves into... I know I would have! Like the Royal Diaries from Scholastic, this is concerned more with day to day life than larger historical events of the time, but that makes it a good introduction to historical fiction for young readers. The fact that this is a series with books with appealing covers makes this a must have for elementary libraries and a good bet even for middle school.
Weaknesses: Beth is rather overprivileged and worthy of a few light slaps at the beginning, although she does improve. Had this been any longer, I probably would have given up on the book because she was so unpleasant at the beginning.

18722882Barrett, Tracy. The Stepsister's Tale
June 24th 2014 by Harlequin Teen

Ever since Lady Jane Mountjoy's alcoholic father abadoned her family, she and her sister and mother have tried to survive as best they can in their rapidly disintegrating mansion. While food and fuel are scarce, Jane's mother seems oblivious to this and insists that they still act like "ladies" even though they are lacking shoes. When their mother goes to town for a week and comes back with a new husband and stepdaughter, the depth of their deprivation is revealed. The husband starts to try to repair the mansion, but soon falls ill and dies, leaving his daughter Isabella behind to deal with his debts. Things become even worse, and soon Jane is depending on the kindness of their impoverished neighbors, exchanging mending for food and firewood. When the prince announces a ball for all the young ladies in the kingdom, Isabella thinks that this might be her way out of her situation, but Jane has discovered secrets about the prince that make this seem like less of a good idea.
Strengths: This is a fresh retelling of the Cinderella tale, deftly switching things up with a new villain. At first, this confused me, because I couldn't tell who was supposed to be evil-- both Jane and Isabella, while both flawed, were sympathetic. Very cleverly done. There's not much happiness here; everything is deprivation and ruined grandeur, which might make this appealing to readers who want problem novels. Our 7th grade used to do an entire unit on Cinderella, so this would be interesting for that, or for a unit on folktales.
Weaknesses: The cover makes this look like a cheesy Gothic romance novel. Especially like the eyeshadow and the well plucked eyebrows. Not how I saw the characters at all!

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 at Anastasia Suen's blog.
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