Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Fairy-Tale Matchmaker

20613749Baker, E.D. The Fairy-Tale Matchmaker
October 7th 2014 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens 
E ARC from Netgalley.com

Cory is miserable as a tooth fairy. Her mother loves the work, but Cory finally reaches her breaking point and quits. She moves in with her uncle and starts looking for other jobs even though she knows the tooth fairies are angry with her. She has other problems as well-- her pet woodchuck likes to eat carpet and shoes, she is in a struggling band, and she's just broken up with her boyfriend (as have some of her friend) and is looking for the perfect guy. Her odd jobs find her babysitting for Humpty Dumpty and for the Old Woman Who Lives in a Shoe, killing spiders for Miss Muffett, and helping Suzie inventory sea shells by the sea shore. When the Tooth Fairies start playing dirty and start sending plagues of bugs that disrupt her odd jobs, Cory goes delving into her family history for some answers to who she really is and what sort of job would be best for her.
Strengths: No one does a fairy tale book as well as E. D. Baker. I adored A Question of Magic and am quite pleased with The Wide-Awake Princess. This has the same modern, fun twist, this time on predominately Mother Goose characters.
Weaknesses: There seemed to be a disconnect between Cory's problems (jobs, boyfriends, fights with mother) and the age of the expected readers. I was also more bothered than I should have been that this included characters that were not in Mother Goose. It's all make believe, so it shouldn't matter!

I can tell what my primary source of Mother Goose was as a child, because illustrations from Mother Goose Rhymes, illustrated by Eulalie, published by Platt and Munk, circa 1953, kept popping into my mind!

Plus, I now have a really overwhelming desire to go to a Storybook Forest. I thought theme parks like that, as well as Northpole, New York, were the coolest thing ever when I was small.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

MMGM-- El Deafo and First Team

Cybils Logo 2014

It's almost here! Time for nominating your favorite books of the year for the Cybils awards. You can start on October first, but make sure you are familiar with the different age and genre divisions before nominating a book! If it has talking animals, witches, ghosts, or magic of any kind, it is NOT in Middle Grade Fiction, but belongs in Middle Grade SPECULATIVE fiction!

Always a fun time. I love seeing what books show up on the MGF list!

20701984Bell, Cece. El Deafo. 

September 2nd 2014 by Harry N. Abrams
ARC from Baker and Taylor

This graphic novel memoir chronicles the author's experiences with hearing loss. After a childhood bout with meningitis at age 4, Ms. Bell had limited hearing and was taught to lip read. She had a variety of hearing aides, some which worked better than others, and a variety of friends, some of whom had issues with her hearing loss and some of whom just had issues. When things get difficult, Bell occasionally would fantasize that she was the super hero El Deafo, and there are dream sequences about what she wishes she could do. At one point, her mother wants her to take a sign language class, but having relied on lip reading, Bell is not thrilled with this idea. This follows the main character up through middle school, deals with a crush on a cute boy, and is generally a great, realistic picture of how one person went through early school years with a hearing loss.
Strengths: There are very few characters in middle grade books with hearing loss, so the details of what Bell experienced were interesting. I especially appreciated the after note where she said that this was a chronicle of just HER experience, and that there are so many different ways to deal with this. I have one student who is a huge reader has a sign language interpreter; I asked her if she would like the book and explained that while it was about a girl with a hearing loss, she doesn't use sign language. My reader was still thrilled to see the book, and is looking forward to the full color version. This will be popular with readers who like graphic novels, but is an interesting story even without the pictures. The friend and boy drama are squarely middle grade and are as important as Bell's dealings with her issues of being different.
Weaknesses:  While using rabbits certainly sets this apart from Smile (knew I couldn't get through the whole review without mentioning that!), it was a bit odd. Bell is clearly about my age, given the cultural references, so it might have been helpful to have a year mentioned, so that readers would have an idea that the technology of hearing aids might have changed a bit. (My cousin had a device similar to Bell's Sonic Ear, and it was a very large device; even my reader says that before she got an implant, she had a unit that was rather cumbersome.)

Green, Tim. First Team (Sequel to The New Kid)
September 30th 2014 by HarperCollins

Brock and his father have narrowly escaped after a harrowing airplane crash, and have decided to lay low in Calhoun, Ohio. They finally think no one will find them, but this puts them in a tough place for money. They rent a run down house in the Flatlands, and Brock’s father gets a job as a “sanitary engineer”. Brock (who has invented a story about his name so he can remain that), runs into football playing Mak and decides to try out for the team, even though baseball is more his thing. Because of his size, the coach decides to give him a try. His skills would indicate he would be a great quarterback (is this something that ALL football players want to be?), but there is already a quarterback on the team… Coach Van Kuffler’s’ nephew. Brock also runs afoul of other player Wentzel because he is from “the wrong side of the tracks”. Despite this, Brock learns football plays for Taylor Lehman, who is on the high school team and being sought by colleges. It doesn’t hurt that Taylor’s sister, Laurel, is not only cute and nice, but works in the town library, and that their divorced mother seems to get along really well with Brock’s father. Mak is tremendously supportive through all of the trouble on the football field, which involves key players becoming injured so that Brock gets a chance. However, all of this is put into jeopardy when Brock’s father’s past almost catches up with them, although salvation arrives from a very surprising source.
Strengths: As always, LOTS of football stuff. Apparently, coaches call plays and players get in trouble for not following them, even if the choice they make ends in points for the team? Remember, I haven’t watched a football game in over 30 years! Brock and his father have a great relationship, Mak is fantastic as a new friend, and Laurel… sigh. Perfect middle school romance. Perfect. She is impressed that Brock is reading Stead’s When You Reach Me, tries to get him to read The Fault in Our Stars (and he has a perfect reaction to that), and the two meet on really equal ground and just enjoy being around each other. The down-and-out Appalachian community is a great setting, and the spy stuff is just icing on the cake. (Or insert appropriate sports metaphor!)
Weaknesses: The spy stuff is over the top, but I loved it. Evil coaches must be a real thing, but they always make me pause. It’s a lot of work to coach if you’re just in it to be evil.

Personal Rant: Also, what the heck is with the sheer number of football coaches? There are only 11 players on the field from each team? I’m sure there are more that are on the team, but they are in a confined space. We had over 50 cross country runners, and the district only pays for one coach? Not understanding.

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.

Wheels of Change

20763764Jacobson, Darlene Beck. Wheels of Change
September 23rd 2014 by Creston Books

Emily loves hanging out in her father's shop, and enjoys talking to Henry, the blacksmith. Her father has just made a carriage for Sousa, and has been commissioned to build one for President Roosevelt himself. When Henry becomes very ill, her father has to hire another man, and with the advent of the "horseless carriage", Emily fears for the future of the shop. Emily's mother wishes she would not hang around the forge and enlists her help to put together a tea, for which Emily must improve her baking, not to mention her manners. Emily starts to see more change than just the automobile-- she sees Suffragettes out, goes to a Nickelodeon and sees a woman playing the piano, and sees even more prejudice against black people than she saw when her family chose to visit Henry at his home. In the end, the most pressing problem-- the continuation of her father's business-- is solved, Emily is invited to meet President Roosevelt, and the family decides that they must do what is right even in the face of others' opinions.
Strengths: There is not a lot of fiction set during this period of history (1901-09) when there was a lot of social change occurring. This is well researched and based on the author's own family history. Lots of different topics of the day are presented.
Weaknesses: If all of the girls back in history fought against the restrictive social mores of the time, women would have been fully emancipated in about 1600. I can only compare this against Anne of Green Gables (1908), wherein Anne might have struggled against the status quo but always felt bad about challenging it. In most fiction, girls are portrayed as feeling put upon by having to behave like ladies, and I'm not sure this was as widespread a problem as fiction leads us to believe. I also wonder if the racial prejudices would have played out in real life in the way they were portrayed in the book.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Saturday Morning Cartoons- Tom Gates

20708841Pichon, L. The Brilliant World of Tom Gates
August 26th 2014 by Candlewick Press 
ARC from YABC and reviewed there.

Tom is in year five, and would rather draw or read comics in class than pay attention to his teacher, Mr. Fullerman, which would explain why he gets put in the very front of the classroom! Tom does occasionally pay attention, but he is a past master at forging notes from home and making up elaborate excuses for why he isn't turning things in. He is also very embarrassed by his father, who does freelance work from a shed in their yard and occasionally shows up at school in his gardening clothes, and also by the "fossils": his grandparents, who serve very odd food (like banana on pizza). His older sister, Delia, is easy to annoy, and Tom does so at every chance. The big thing going on in Tom's world is a concert by his favorite band, Dude3, which he manages to talk his father into attending with him. Tom's own band, the Dogzombies, also have an opportunity to perform at a school concert, but both concerts end up being hysterically problematic. This is the first volume of a seven book British series being released in the US for the first time.
Strengths: Notebook novels are always popular, and this one has pleasing graphics that are somewhat reminiscent of Schoolhouse Rock. Tom is well meaning about most of his escapades, except those involving his sister, and the inclusion of typically British phrases and obsessions (Caramel wafer, anyone? Actually, I could go for a Cadbury Finger right now!) add a new twist to this type of book. A glossary is included at the back.
Weaknesses: Not much of a plot, and the illustrations and type are a bit random and made it harder for me to follow what was going on.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Guy Friday- Dead in the Water (World War II #2)

20799493Lynch, Chris. Dead in the Water (World War II #2)
30 September 2014, Scholastic
E ARC from Netgalley.com

Theo and Hank both want to join the Navy at the very beginning of WWII, but there father is afraid of losing both boys, so Theo heads of to the Army, but in the air division. Hank ends up on an aircraft character in the Pacific, where he is an "airedale", helping planes get off the ship. He is a huge fan of baseball and has even brought mitts and a ball with him, and is always looking for someone to toss the ball around, even when the ship is being attacked (in between attacks, of course!). He has a fellow ball lover in Bradford, who played in the Negro Leagues. On board the ship, the other sailors don't have problems with race, but whenever the crew docks, Bradford finds that he isn't welcomed in restaurants or on beaches, and starts to feel (with the support of his crew mates) that if he is fighting for his country, he should have the same rights as everyone else. The ship sees lots of action, visits the site of Pearl Harbor, and Hank begins to realize that war is a horrible thing.
Strengths: Lynch's WWII and Vietnam books are big circulators among my boys who are interested in war, and their are lots of good details. I hope this shows up in the book fair; it will sell out!
Weaknesses: I adored The Right Fight, but this book got off to a slow start and then had too much baseball when what I wanted was descriptions of what it was like to live on a ship, and more information about the Pacific theater. Will this matter to my readers? No. But it was odd to have expectations for a book and have them not be met. Maybe there are so many WWII books out there that I am looking for specific different topics!

Random Library Blathering:
An eighth grade girl came in yesterday, pulled me aside, and said in a whisper "Is it o.k. if I read THESE books?" and showed me the first two SaraNormal books. I personally was addicted to the books, and told her as much. I also told her that 8th grade is a great time to read a lot of middle school books, because she'll be busy in high school reading To Kill a Mockingbird and things like that. She was so happy that she went back to the shelves to get the third book, and was greatly disappointed that it wasn't there. Somehow, this was the best moment of my day.

After talking about library catalogs, our 65 MackinVia books and the Ohio E Book Project all week, I only had two students interested in our own digital titles and two interested in the public library ones. One girl was very excited about getting audio books, but in general, my students don't like e books. There are a few who read Watt Pad books on their iPhones, but they are definitely the exception.

The number of students who come into the library and have absolutely NO CLUE what to read is absolutely astonishing. I cannot remember my middle school librarian or the public librarians ever recommending a book to me-- I just picked things off the shelf. Conversely, my avid readers only want the newest books and keep me up to date on new series. Most of the books I read were from the 1950s and 60s, and I don't remember there being any new books in my middle school library. And I worked there. My friend Lori and I often manned the circulation desk. The library assistant, Mrs. Greer, was always out there with us, but I don't know that the librarian ever left the work room!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

British Mysteries

14059024 Stroud, Jonathan. The Whispering Skull (Lockwood and Co. #2)
September 16th 2014 by Disney Hyperion
E ARC from Netalley.com

Lucy, George and Lockwood are back, still fighting off Visitors and squabbling with the annoying rival Fittes organization. After a rather disastrous attempt to contain a spirit in an authorized grave, they are under scrutiny from DEPRAC (Department of Psychical Research and Control)—even though DEPRAC doesn’t quite trust Lockwood and Co., they are offered the job of researching the situation and dealing with it. And quite a situation it is. George has seen something in the coffin that lead to it being shrouded in silver, but someone has broken in to it and stolen an artifact out of it. Both thieves are discovered, but both end up dead. The team finds out that the body in the lead coffin was that of Edmund Bickerstaff, who was apparently killed and then eaten by rats, and the artifact was a boneglass with tremendous magical powers. Not only that, but the Level Three visitor whose skull and ectoplasm are in a jar in the Lockwood office starts talking to Lucy and is intimately involved in the Bickerstaff problem. Lockwood decides to investigate Bickerstaff’s long abandoned house, and the group takes the skull with them. It seems to lead them in to trouble, but also help them out of really tight spots. Not to give too much away, but ghosts are never what they seem to be, situations are always more dangerous, and Lockwood and Co. always ready to do their best, especially if they can best Fittes on top of it.
Strengths: Lockwood and Co. need someone to organize their business, and I could totally be an office manager for them. I understand that it would be moving to London, but I could clean and organize, make appointments, keep the place stocked with tea and cake and generally make life easier so that the trio can spend more of their time hunting ghosts.

Oh, strengths of the STORY. Fine. Awesome gory ghost story with fighting, flying ectoplasm, great evil characters and convincing world building. Lucy, George and Lockwood are all endearing in their own way, and a tad mysterious as well. This is a great read for a rainy day, curled up with a cup of tea. Stroud has quite the way with describing characters, too. My favorite was “It looked like a baby yak had fallen on him from on high”
Weaknesses: This is quite lengthy; it almost could have been made into two books. Anything over 400 pages is a bit of a hard sell for middle school students. Hard core fantasy fans will be okay with this, but those wanting gruesome ghost stories tend to want shorter books.

18885674Berry, Julie. The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place
September 23rd 2014 by Roaring Brook Press 
E ARC from Netgalley.com

St. Ethelreda's is a very small school for young ladies held in Mrs. Plackett's house. There are only seven students. all of whom would much rather be with the querulous headmistress than with their own dysfunctional families. When Mrs. Plackett and her brother, Mr. Godding, drop dead after eating veal, the girls, especially Smooth Kitty (all of the girls have adjectives attached to their names, like Dour Elinor and Disgraceful Mary Jane), decide that the best plan of action is to bury both of the adults in the garden and continue on as if nothing has happened. This excellent plan would have gone off without a hitch had people not arrived that very night for a surprise birthday party for Mr. Godding. The story is created that a nephew of the pair is sick in India, and Mr. Godding has taken off forthwith to be with him, thus sending Mrs. Plackett to bed with a horrible case of vapors. Soon, Stout Alice is recruited to impersonate Mrs. Plackett, but villages tend to be such nosy places, and the girls have a lot of trouble keeping up their ruse. Eventually, after more murders are committed, they find the perpetrator to be an unlikely person working from an inconceivable set of motives.
Strengths: This is a very effective period mystery, well researched and clever. With the renewed interest in the history of any sort of Victorian-ish setting, this could find some readers, perhaps more in high school for this particular book.
Weaknesses:  While I enjoyed this, it could be a hard sell at the middle school. The murders, by poison, are not gruesome enough, and the idea of farce is one that younger students may have trouble understanding.  The cover might appeal to them, though. I found using the adjective with every girls' name to be a bit much; perhaps this is a Victorian convention that I somehow missed?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Red Pencil- #WeNeedDiverseBooks Wednesday

20454083Pinkney, Andrea Davis, and Evans, Shane (illus.). The Red Pencil
September 16th 2014 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Amira, her disabled younger sister Leila, and her father and mother have a fairly prosperous life in Darfur in 2003. They have a patch of ground with a garden, and a goat that has a kid. Amira is envious of her best friend, Halima, who leaves their village to go to the Gad Primary School. It is expensive to go, but what is holding Amira back is her mother's opinion that girls do not need to know anything but how to take care of a household. When the Jangaweed arrive and attack the town, Amira's father is killed. She and her remaining family escape with Old Anwar, a neighbor. They eventually come to the large relocation camp at Kalma. The deprivation is horrendous, and the family doesn't know what to do. Amira, however, still has her dream of attending school, and is thrilled when she is given a red pencil and a pad of paper by an aid worker. She loves to draw, and knowing that her father wanted her to learn inspires Amira to find ways to educate herself despite her circumstances.
Strengths: The genocide in Darfur is certainly something about which we need a lot more information, and Pinkney does a great job of making this middle grade appropriate. Readers will connect with Amira and start to understand how difficult life can be in other parts of the world. The pictures and short length will entice many reluctant readers.
Weaknesses: I would have liked to see much more factual information about conditions and much less poetic musing. Because there is so little on this topic out there, I wish this had been in prose instead of in verse. For example, more information about the Janjaweed and why they were attacking villages would have been valuable, but since it is from Amira's point of view and she doesn't quite understand events, we don't get complete information.

18667862LaMarche, Una. Like No Other.
July 24th 2014 by Razorbill

Devorah has always adhered closely to the behavioral expectations of her strict Hasidic family, but when her sister has a baby at 18, she starts to question whether this path will make her happy. To further complicate matters, when she is in the hospital with her sister during a storm, she gets stuck in the elevator with Jaxon, a geeky boy of West Indian descent to whom she finds she has an attraction and who lives in her neighborhood, albeit on "the other side". Since she is not allowed to talk to boys, much less date, Devorah finds ways to meet Jaxon, and the two fall in love and make plans to go away together for a weekend. When her family finds out, they send her away to be talked to by a rabbi, and her family starts arranging her marriage. Eventually, Devorah realizes that things will not work out with Jaxon but meeting him still has changed her and her plans for the future.
Strengths: This was a tremendously interesting book, and one that should get all the attention that The Fault in Our Stars and If I Stay are currently getting! Much more positive message as well! The portrayal of Devorah as someone who loves her family deeply but for whom the strictures of her culture are no longer working is deftly handled, and the portrayal of one family of Hasidic culture is something that many readers will not know anything about. (And I read conflicting opinions as to whether or not the portrayal is accurate. Let's go with: it is a portrayal of one family and their interpretation of the culture.)
Weaknesses: NOT a middle grade book, due to a few scenes and some language, as well as a general tone of introspection that doesn't work well for most middle school students. Definitely would buy for a high school library, though! I thought that Jaxon could have been a bit more developed (and a bit less annoying) as a character (since alternating chapters are from his viewpoint), and a glossary would have been nice.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Science Fiction (Gibbs and Myers)

17571237Gibbs, Stuart. Space Case. 
16 September 2014, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Dashiell isn't thrilled about living on the moon with his scientist parents in the first ever permanent moon base, but he realizes that despite the cramped and unpleasant conditions, he is making history. When the base physician, Dr. Holtz, takes an unauthorized outing out onto the surface of the moon and is killed because his suit wasn't on properly, there is lots of conjecture. Did he have space madness? Was he depressed? Or was someone trying to kill him? Dashiell wouldn't have thought much of it, except that he overhead Dr. Holtz talking to someone on the phone when both were in the bathroom late at night. Apparently, Dr. Holtz had a big announcement, but never got to make it. Right on the heels of this event, a new group of scientists arrive at the station, including Kira, who is just Dashiell's age. Since the only other 12 year old is the lumpish video gamer Rodrigo, Dashiell is happy, and inclined to trust Kira with the investigation of the murder. He has been contacted by Zan Perfonic, who has arrived on the shuttle but lacks some of the insider information, to help solve the crime. He and Kira find many clues, including one of Holtz using sign language to indicate that his phone needs to be found-- which the two have to venture out onto the surface of the moon to locate!
Strengths: Gibbs writes a very good mystery for middle grade readers. They are murder mysteries, but full of humor rather than gratuitious violence. This makes them a good step up from clue-oriented mysteries about missing dogs or mysterious neighbors. The details of life in space, from the food to toilet facilities, will intrigue readers and reset the middle grade fascination with bodily functions in a framework of science. Very clever. Good science fiction twist at the end. Of course, this is better for impressionable young people when they are older, because they will not EXPECT jet packs in the way that some of us still do!
Weaknesses:  It wouldn't be middle grade if the teen didn't save the day, but it was a bit of a stretch to believe that none of the adults were all that concerned with the death possibly being a murder.

Myers, Walter Dean. On a Clear Day
September 23rd 2014 by Crown Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Netgalley.com

Dahlia, who is of Dominican descent, lives in New York alone since the death of her parents. The world is a scary place in 2035, and gangs roam the landscape attacking people, which has lead to the rise of gated communities and the movement to all on line school. Dahlia is very good at math and has been published in several math journals, so is located by Javier and Michael and recruited to go to London to a gathering of concerned teens who are trying to overthrown C-8, the eight multinational corporations who are trying to control the world. While there, they meet with lots of different teens involved in facets of this movement as well as terrorists.
Strengths: Awesome cover, culturally diverse cast of characters, interesting premise.
Weaknesses: This is DEFINITELY a YA book—random f-bombs, drug use, and bizarre things like “slut strips” thrown into the mix. It also got rather confusing and boring, with all the descriptions about the corporations. I just was not sure what to think of this one. Even though it’s Myers, I would definitely read before purchasing.

It is very sad that Mr. Myers didn't live to see the publication of his last book. He will be sorely missed. 
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