Sunday, December 21, 2014

Wedding Belles: Ask Amy Green #6

20819646Webb, Sarah. Wedding Belles: Ask Amy Green #6
November 11th 2014 by Candlewick
Copy received from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

Amy returns for one final installment, which finds her mother still completely unprepared to marry Dave. Clover, Amy's aunt, has agreed to do all of the footwork for the wedding, but Amy's mother can't even manage to get her own wedding dress, and when she does, it is a disaster. Amy has problems enough of her own-- her boyfriend Seth's mother is ill with cancer that has returned, and he breaks up with Amy because he doesn't feel he has enough time to put toward their relationship. Of course, he breaks up with her right when she could use him for research most; Goss magazine wants her to write an article on "How to Kiss", which would be her first solo article! She's also trying to help out the school's cheerleading squad, since one of the members sprained an ankle, and dealing with all of the mean girls in her school, all while fearing that Clover is going to take a job in the United States. Will the wedding ever get off the ground, and give Amy a chance to get back to her regulary scheduled chaotic life?
Strengths: This is a fun series, especially since it is set in a suburb of Dublin, Ireland! It has all of the elements that my avid readers of romantic fiction like-- family problems, boy problems, and fun friends. Readers in this age group also like to think about planning weddings, so Clover's plans (as well as her wacky, fashion forward outfits) will delight them.
Weaknesses: I am not a fan of weddings, and this series seems borderline obsessed with them. There is also a fair amount of sad spread through these, and I worried about the mental health of Amy's mother. I think the woman needs some help and is not getting it!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Books for Younger Readers

20708748McDonald, Megan. Amy Namey in Ace Reporter
(Judy Moody & Friends #3)
September 9th 2014 by Candlewick Press
Copy from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

Amy wants to follow in her mother's footsteps and write insightful newspaper articles. To this end, she and Judy hold an archaeological dig in their back yard, hoping to find artifacts from King Tut and go monster hunting in Frog Neck Creek. Amy writes up her articles, and her mother is so impressed that she helps Amy set up a desk in her room so that she has a good place to work on her journalistic endeavors.
Strengths: Engaging characters and fun adventures make this early chapter book a fun choice for beginning readers. The fact that it is part of a series, and that the book is illustrated in full cover, will draw readers to it. Judy's friend Stink shows up briefly, and while older readers will know  that it is unlikely that Amy would find a sea serpent in a creek or ancient Egyptian artifacts in her backyard, younger readers will be greatly amused.
Weaknesses: Still don't understand why there are so many books encouraging young readers to become journalists. Bad idea, people. Bad idea.

20708769Haas, Jessie. Bramble and Maggie: Spooky Season
August 12th 2014 by Candlewick Press
Copy from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

Bramble is skittish going into the fall-- there are leaves whipping across her path, scarecrows in the field that look like suspicious people, and strange and sudden noises. Maggie takes a tumble from Bramble when the horse is spooked, and tries to help Bramble through her fears so that this doesn't happen again. Eventually, Bramble is able to go trick or treating dressed up as a scarecrow, with Maggie on her back as a crow. The two have lots of fun, and get lots of candy, much of which they eat while out.
Strengths: Halloween is a huge deal to readers in this age group, so it makes sense for a book in an early reader series to concentrate on this holiday. Horses are also undeniably attractive, so this is a great choice for elementary students. I remember reading books like Gus Was a Friendly Ghost and the Georgie series year round. The illustrations are attractive, and I liked that Maggie was always very responsible when it came to taking care of Bramble.
Weaknesses: I'm not used to reading books for this age level, so the books seem really short and therefore very expensive! I'm half tempted to keep this for my middle school library, since more and more of my readers struggle with longer books, but will probably send this on to an elementary school.

19346449Greenhut, Josh. Escape to California:
Flat Stanley's Worldwide Adventures #12
15 August 2015, HarperCollins
Copy from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

Flat Stanley and his father are riding a cable car in San Francisco when Stanley sees a girl racing down a hill in a wheelchair. Feeling that she is in danger, he tries to save her, and his father grabs on as well, which results in the two of them ending up in a van and driven to a redwood forest. There, they find out that Lily has purposefully sought Stanley out because she thinks that he will understand being different and having people apply preconceived notions to what he must be like. Lily wants to try an escape from Alcatraz island to prove that someone in a wheelchair could perform this impossible trick, and she wants Stanley to help her. Her family is involved in this, as is an entire corporation in Silicon Valley, and Stanley is soon kitted out in a fabulous flying suit. The two get locked into the prison when it closes and try to make their escape.
Strengths: Flat Stanley is a perennial favorite; the original book came out in 1964, and even twenty years ago when my children were in school, there was a Flat Stanley project where we mailed copies of Stanley to friends in other parts of the world and had them send back pictures of Stanley's adventures. If this book is any indication, this new series of adventures finds Stanley kicking it up a notch and getting involved in all sorts of daredevil escapades. At the end of the book, there are some fun facts about San Francisco.
Weaknesses: I was a little uncomfortable with Stanley and his father basically being kidnapped. I'm glad that Lily wants to prove herself, but doing so by slightly illegal activities doesn't seem wise.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Guy Friday- Murphyy: Gold Rush Dog

18683525Hart, Alison. Murphy: Gold Rush Dog
October 2014 by Peachtree Publishers
Copy received from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

Murphy is owned by the evil Carrick, who overworks the dog and doesn't feed him enough. When Carrick's group arrives in Nome, Murphy runs off and tries to survive on the beach. Eventually, he sees new people getting off a ship, and identifies a young girl, Sally, and her mother as likely candidates to take care of him. Since Sally and her mother are on their own, they soon find that having a large dog is good for their safety. The mother has a typewriter, and is planning on earning her living typing up accounts and letters for the people in Nome. She and Sally live in a tent and try to remain as respectable as they can. Sally is bound and determined not to return to her grandmother in San Francisco and hopes to find gold, but things are difficult, and her mother soon books passage back. Sally, with Murphy in tow, runs off to pan gold on her claim. Eventually, she finds a nugget and heads back to Nome, only to run into a snowstorm, as well as Carrick. Luckily, she receives help from other miners, and is saved by the appearance of her grandfather, who helps her work out the legal details of the ownership of Murphy as well as her claim.
Strengths: There is a lot of good information about the Gold Rush in Alaska in the early 1900s, including notes at the back and a small bibliography. Sally is a feisty young woman, and her determination to stay in Alaska is refreshing. The story is told from Murphy's point of view, but still includes much of what Sally is feeling. This is a good choice for readers who like adventure stories, or books like Klimo's Dog Diaries.
Weaknesses: While younger readers will think this a plausible adventure, I knew that Sally would be dead before she got more than five miles from the city, Murphy or no Murphy. In the pictures (which really don't add much to the story), she looks about ten. Still, a decent historical adventure.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Watcher

20759632Harlow, Joan Hiatt. The Watcher
November 4th 2014 by Margaret K. McElderry Books
Copy received from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

Wendy, a character from Shadows on the Sea (2003) is taken from her home in the US by Adrie, whom she thought was her aunt but who turns out to be her mother. The two go to Germany, where Adrie has a job with the Nazi regime. Wendy, who doesn't speak German, finds it hard to adjust to her new life, but takes comfort in a "defective" German shepherd puppy she saves from being euthanized by the Nazi soldiers. She meets Barret, a blind young man, in a park near her home, and finds out that Barret's grandfather knew her biological father and promised to take care of Wendy in case she ever came back to Germany. To pass time, Wendy volunteers at a Lebensborn home, taking care of babies and young children who have been taken by their parents because they are "perfect" examples of Aryan bloodlines, even if their parents are not. There, she befriends Johanna, who is working at the same children's home as part of an attempt to reeducate her, since she has refused to denounce her religion. Eventually, Johanna comes to further grief for her beliefs, and Wendy realizes that a secret in her family's past puts her at risk, and with the help of Barret, she plans her escape from Germany.
Strengths: This is certainly a good twist on World War II and Holocaust stories. There were many Germans who thought that what Hitler was doing was right, or things would not have become as dire as they did for the Jewish population. It's easy to paint all Nazis as pure evil, but this was an interestingly  nuanced treatment of a child having to deal with a relative who was working for a side with which she herself didn't agree. Having a dog, as well as a family mystery, is a nice touch. Wendy's escape scene reminded me of the one in Number the Stars. This would be a good book to pair with that, or to use in a study unit on World War II or the Holocaust.
Weaknesses: Wendy's relationship with Adrie made this book less successful for me. The mystery surrounding her birth was rather expected. I know that Harlow wanted to pull a character from another book, but I would have liked this better if Wendy would not have been American, would have really loved Adrie, and then came to the realization that what Adrie was doing wasn't right. Something just didn't click for me personally with this one, but I think students will enjoy it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

#WeNeedDiverseBooks Wednesday- Nickel Bay Nick

At Kidlitcon, one of the diversities that was mentioned as being underserved was children in poverty. We are seeing more and more books that include characters that are economically disadvantaged, but this book had an entire town on the rocks. Also, I can't think of other titles where the main character has had a heart transplant.

17465440Pitchford, Dean. Nickel Bay Nick

October 17th 2013 by Putnam Juvenile
Nominated by Always in the Middle

Fifth grader Sam's life is hard and he's not making it any better. He lives in the economically disadvantaged town of Nickel Bay, his father's bakery may go under, his mother ran off when he was young to be a singer, and Sam himself had a heart transplant at four and is somewhat fragile. This doesn't stop him from being a complete idiot, though, hanging out with troublesome 8th graders who encourage him to shoplift and steal his father's car. He also deals with anger and disappointment at learning about his mother's remarriage by throwing roks at windows in a derelict building, and ends his evening by destroying the Christmas display at the home of wealthy neighbor Mr. Wells. It turns out that Mr.Wells worked in intelligence, and has done some investigation into Sam's long criminal record. Using this information, Mr. Wells demands that Sam help him; he's broken his leg, which has put an end to his activity as holiday philanthropist Nickel Bay Nick, who passes out $100 bills, to the delight of local and international media. Sam has a job working with Mr. Wells, ostensibly (for his father's benefit) filing papers, and does as much of the handing out of money as he can manage. There are hiccoughs, of course, but things go fairly well, and some holiday spirit is restored to Nickel Bay. Sam also finds out secrets about Mr. Wells, as well as his own family.
Strengths: There are very few Christmas stories out, and this one, centering as it does on philanthropy, has its moments. Fun, adventure, humor-- many things to recommend it.
Weaknesses: I hated Sam. He certainly improves throughout the course of the book, but he is one of the most unpleasant characters I've come across in a while. Certainly, life has not been kind to him, but he definitely makes a large part of his own problems. The ending of the book was a little too neat for my taste.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Pennyroyal Academy

20821011Larson, M.L. Pennyroyal Academy
October 7th 2014 by Putnam Juvenile

A girl stumbles about in the forest, wrapped in spider webs, with just a note that she should go to Pennyroyal Academy, an institution that trains young women of royal blood to fight witches. Luckily, since there is a war on, they are taking girls even if they don't have a pedigree, so Cadet Eleven (or Evie, as her first friend decides she should be called) earns a place. She has been befriended by the handsome prince Remington, whom most of the students swoon over, but is given a hard time by another boy, Calhoun. Evie is glad to be training, but she finds out some disturbing news about her past, finding her birth mother and secrets about how she was separated from her and raised. Will this information prevent Evie from fighting in the war that is overtaking the kingdom?
Strengths: For readers who have read all of the Tamora Pierce books, this would be a good choice. The princesses are all strong and daring, and there's lots of action and adventure. Medievalish setting, a bit of romance, some mean girls, family drama.
Weaknesses: I don't know that we need more medieval fantasy books. With maps. This also had some moments of cognitive disconnect for me-- some of the chapter headings had a silhouette that looked just like Barbie, and the tailor, Rumpledshirtsleeves, was always proclaiming how fashion could harness the power of the princess and bring out her true power and self... just seemed a bit odd.

And LOOKEE!! I think I'm doing okay for this year. I have read a few short nonfiction and picture books, but the vast majority of what I read are middle grade novels!

2014 Reading Challenge
You have read 732 of 710 books
53 books ahead of schedule
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Monday, December 15, 2014

MMGM- Biographies

18966051Marrin, Albert. Thomas Paine: Crusader for Liberty
November 11th 2014 by Knopf Books for Young Readers

This book is more than a biography-- it concerns itself with how Paine was a part of the world around him. It talks about his life, certainly, but frames his actions within the larger picture of history, so doesn't come across as a straight biography. Well illustrated with period pictures as well as later photographs of historic places, this sheds light on how Paine came to think the things that he did, how he shared his opinions with the world, and how the world treated him because of this. Marrin clearly did his research, but I found Paine to be an unpleasant character, and as a result, couldn't really get into the book. Debating whether of not to buy this for the library; we often need books set during this time period, but I don't know if students are going to find this any more interesting than I did.

17244238Latta, Sara L. Microwave Man: Percy Spencer and his Sizzling Invention
January 1st 2014 by Enslow Elementary

This slim biography covers the interesting life of Spencer, who was born in 1894 and left school after the 5th grade. Eventually joining the Navy as a radio operator, he was able to get a job at the fledging Raytheon company in the 1920s. He distinguished himself by, among other things, finding a way to vastly speed up production of radio tubes for use by pilots in WWII. Hoping to keep Raytheon viable after the war, he turned his knowledge of radar waves to the invention of a device used for food preparation... the microwave oven. Sadly, Spencer passed away in 1970 before his invention really took off.
StrengthsThis Inventors at Work series covers some unsung heroes, including Ruth Wakefield, whose name SHOULD be immediately known to all and yet is not. I will be ordering this entire five book series. I especially liked how this had some science tie ins with brief explanations of how radio waves worked. Well illustrated and pleasantly formatted, this will be a big hit for readers who like the Abdo Food Dudes series.
Weaknesses: Some of the writing is a bit stiff; early on, the word "tot" is used, which seemed an odd choice!

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.

While I managed to get a lot done over the weekend, Monday  morning is off to a roaring start with all of the printers in the building not working again. Last week, I swear the 7th graders broke Google! If I were in the classroom, I would be very reluctant to plan any lesson around the computer. STAR testing?? Renaissance Place seems to be down. Web Quest? Network server on the fritz. Showing nonfiction video clip to class? LCD projector not working or teacher computer fried because of netweek server fritz. It makes the chalkboard and overhead projector seem like cutting edge technology.

But PARCC assessment on line? That will totally go through with no problems at all. 
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