Friday, March 27, 2015

Yearly Weeding Post
May have said it best two years ago:

Today is the last day before spring break. This means that we have made it through January, February, and the first round of testing! Hooray!

I'm running a little late on my March cleaning, but managed to get my yearly round of weeding done in a much shorter amount of time than usual.

Between the money I get from the school district (about $10 per student), $1,000 from the PTO, and books that I acquire for reviewing or from other sources (Reading Warehouse clearance, for nonfiction), I added 1,017 books to the collection this year! If I don't get rid of some books, things would soon get out of hand!

It's actually gotten easier-- the books I pulled this year are falling to pieces, smell bad, or have begun to annoy me because they just take up shelf space. If students won't read a book no matter how much I try to sell it, it needs to move on to a better place. I only pulled about 250 books this year. Many were nonfiction books that are enormously long. The new nonfiction books are a quarter of the width of the old ones, so we have plenty of nonfiction space.

I will probably pull another 50 books during inventory, because some of my most popular books are in absolute tatters. It was a good thing I had ten copies of The Hunger Games or Twilight; now I might be able to find one or two that are not held together with chewing gum and baling wire. I need to replace some of my Anthony Horowitz and Rick Riordan books. I WISH I could replace my Darren Shan Cirque du Freak books, but the only place that I can get them in hard cover is Half Price Books. Yes, this would be why I have at least two of all of the Zom-B titles.

It would be nice to post a picture of my repair pile this morning-- I have about fifty books that need glue, tape, etc. One of my volunteers spends an hour or so every week just putting books back together. My students aren't particularly hard on things, but books do wear out. I'm glad that they are wearing out rather than rusting out!

Weeding is so hard that it requires cute puppies. It makes the library a more organized place, though, so it's worth it.

Guy Friday- Return to Planet Tad (Planet Tad #2)

20483076Carvell, Tim.  Return to Planet Tad (Planet Tad #2)
September 23rd 2014 by HarperCollins

Following Tad through the year of eighth grade and into high school via his blog, this covers a wide variety of funny happenings in his life. There is a spelling bee, a trip to his grandmother's wedding, and lots of other brief anecdotes interspersed with observations on random things, like Head and Shoulders shampoo or Marshmallow Peeps. Tad also tries to hold several jobs and tries out for the high school mascot position. Sequel to Planet Tad.
Strengths: It's a notebook novel published by Mad magazine. Is there anything more "guy" than that.
Weaknesses: Very little discernible plot or character development. Silly me, I find that rather integral part of a book. But then, I'm so silly that I don't require pictures in my literature.

Aha! I haven't turned into a 12-year-old boy. What a relief.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Mystery Thursday

20652522Lee, Y.S. Rivals in the City. (The Agency #4)
10 March 2015, Candlewick Press

Mary Quinn is back, enjoying the small nest egg given to her for saving Queen Victoria’s life, and basking in her relationship with James Easton, to whom she is engaged, and with whom she has started a detective business. When she is approached by her former employer at the Agency, Anne Treleaven, to help intercept the infamous Maria Thorold when she comes into the country to be with her dying husband, Mary agrees reluctantly. She has fond feelings for Anne and the Agency, but wants to sever her ties. Still, she starts to watch Newgate for glimpses of Maria, and renews her acquaintance with Maria’s daughter, Angelica. At the same time, James’ building company has a suspicious contract to rebuild the vaults in a bank and has been approached by the other founder of the Agency to help run Maria to ground. Mary finds a long lost cousin who is a fighter, and her sense of “otherness” in a very homogeneous London is often tested.

Rivals in the City builds on the first three novels in this series brilliantly. Maria is clearly still very much a threat, and the imminent death of her husband is a good reason for her to return to London. Her preparations for her return to crime are clever, and her use of her daughter is typical of her character and ruthless. The problems with the women behind the Agency seem realistic, and the fact that they approach Mary and James separately allows the readers to see the depth of Mary and James’ devotion to their business and each other. While the introduction of Mary’s cousin seems a bit of a stretch, his appearance and their meeting in London seem plausible. I especially enjoyed how all of the various elements came together at the very end.

Mary and James have a delicious rapport. They want to be married very badly, but feel compelled to observe Victorian mores by being very discreet in their relationship. They take long walks outside or visit museums when they wish to be alone in order to deflect any criticism, but also privately are very forward thinking in their estimation of what women are capable of accomplishing. Maria Thorold is pure evil, but her daughter has grown into a struggling young woman who appreciates the comforts of the life she has lost, but also is grateful for the few comforts remaining to her.

Fans of Cassandra Clare’s Infernal Devices series who want a more realistic version of Victorian London, as well as fans of Mary Hooper’s historical novels, will find Mary Quinn’s experiences as a multicultural heroine show a different view of this time period, and any readers who like strong female characters will be drawn to both Mary and to Maria, since both show different ways that women with few socially acceptable routes choose to grab a bit of power over their own lives.

Mysteries are always in high demand at my school, so I look at a lot of them. There's a certain kind of mystery that I know will be popular with my students (e.g. Sorrell's First Shot), and while my criteria are nebulous at best, they have stayed pretty much the same over the past dozen years. I was hoping that the following books would work in my library, but I don't think they will. Take a look. Maybe they will work in yours.

23013685Balliet, Blue. Pieces and Players
March 31st 2015 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

This is sort of the third book in the Chasing Vermeer series, but also includes the character of Zoomy from The Danger Box, as well as Early Pearl from Hold Fast. They, along with Calder, Petra, and Tommy are asked to help solve the mystery of a theft at the Farmer art museum by one of the trustees. Like the other books in the series, it has good descriptions of Chicago and the art museums there, has supportive adults, bright kids, and some highjinks. This also had a lot of teen angst about hairy legs and zits. Since I can't get the first three books in the series to check out, I think I will pass on this one. If my students want clue oriented mysteries, they seem to want them to involve murders instead of art.

18484774Brewer, Heather. The Cemetery Boys
March 30th 2015 by Harper Collins
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

There's a huge demand for the Chronicles of Vladimir Tod books in my library, and certainly quite the demand for scary books, but this started out being rather dull (Stephen has to move to very small town because of family financial difficulties caused by his mother's mental illness and dad's unemployment, he has to put up with really nasty grandmother, he meets hot girl, but her twin brother is menacing) and then got too mature for middle grade. Lots of drinking of horrible sounding liquor, a shirt being removed and a condom mentioned. Sadly, will not be purchasing.

18009950Stokes, Paula.Liars, Inc.
March 24th 2015 by HarperTeen
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

I was looking at the Edelweiss catalog during a down moment-- the PTO has given me another $1,000 to spend, so I'm working on a book order. One of my delightful 7th grade helpers was looking at titles with me, and we were both intrigued by the cover and premise of this one. I started reading it that night, and was rather appalled. It was coarse and vulgar, with the main character making out with his girlfriend, and when the f-bomb was finally dropped, it occurred to me that I definitely didn't want to hand this book personally to my helper. Drat. This could have worked without the vulgarity.

Max Cantrell has never been a big fan of the truth, so when the opportunity arises to sell forged permission slips and cover stories to his classmates, it sounds like a good way to make a little money and liven up a boring senior year. With the help of his friends Preston and Parvati, Max starts Liars, Inc. Suddenly everybody needs something and the cash starts pouring in. Who knew lying could be so lucrative?

When Preston wants his own cover story to go visit a girl he met online, Max doesn’t think twice about hooking him up. Until Preston never comes home. Then the evidence starts to pile up—terrifying clues that lead the cops to Preston’s body. Terrifying clues that point to Max as the murderer.

Can Max find the real killer before he goes to prison for a crime he didn’t commit? In a story that Kirkus Reviews called "Captivating to the very end," Paula Stokes starts with one single white lie and weaves a twisted tale that will have readers guessing until the explosive final chapters.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

#WeNeedDiverseBooks Wednesday-- Blackbird Fly

22663352Kelly, Erin Entrada. Blackbird Fly
24 March 2015, Greenwillow Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Apple (aka Analyn) rails against her mother's insistence at embracing their Filipino culture in embarassing ways like insisting on calling her Apple. Apple's father has passed away and she doesn't have much information about him, only that he loved the Beatles. Apple is having a horrific year at school because she has been listed as number three on the "dog log", a list of ugly girls in her school. Her friends Alyssa and Gretchen are appalled that she is on the list and really want to cut ties with her, so she's glad that a new boy, Evan, seems to appreciate her for who she is. Apple really wants to buy a guitar in order to feel a connection with her late father, and thinks about stealing money from a teacher. She puts the money back, and the teacher offers to loan her a school guitar and teach her how to play. There are a variety of other school dramas, including a costume dance, and Apple learns to embrace her culture and starts to see her own worth after making friends who also have some social problems.
Strengths: This had good descriptions of cultural aspects of the Philippines that are very rare in middle grade fiction. Apple is a likable character who is trying her best to work through difficult situations, and Even is the kind of student we wish all of ours would be-- he sticks up for Apple even when he doesn't know her well. There are a few students who are still interested in the Beatles.
Weaknesses: It never really makes sense to me that Apple has so many social problems, expect that she is "other" in Louisiana and subject to a lot of prejudice. She seems like a perfectly fine young lady. I wanted to see the boys who came up with the "dog log" soundly punished.

I was also a bit confused about the students very long lunch hour ( an hour?) and the fact that Apple was allowed to spend it in the library. This has come up in several books lately, but MY library is not a place that would be a quiet and safe retreat for students-- it's just too busy all day long, and during at least one lunch time, there is a study hall that meets in the library!

22571276Harwell, Andrew. The Spider Ring
January 27th 2015 by Scholastic Press

When Maria's grandmother passes away suddenly, she leaves her spider ring for Maria, hidden in their special spot. Maria soon realizes that the ring has powers to summon spiders and make them do her bidding, such as making her a pretty dress. Her grandmother warned her not to abuse the spider's friendship, but that doesn't stop Maria from asking the spiders to make a scene at the evil Claire's birthday party. When a creepy older man shows up, Maria learns not only secrets about her grandmother's past, but a bit more about the danger that she is in because of the organization that had the spider rings-- and the threat that a "great aunt" of one of her friends might be to her!
Strengths:Decent mystery, lots of creepy spiders, good cover. The bullying was more realistic than in many books, and Maria wasn't obsessing about the death either of her grandmother or her father (in the war). Good information about spiders.
Weaknesses:This book seemed to have everything going for it, but as a whole, didn't succeed for me. This ended in a way that would leave it open for a sequel, but the plot never really gelled for me. What I really thought: Looked good and creepy, but there were some holes in the plot that made this less than thrilling. Also bothered by the ages of the grandmother and her friend-- yes, they were later explained by magic, but it seemed like an afterthought.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Clones vs. Aliens

22318569Castle, M.E. Clones vs. Aliens
February 10th 2015 by EgmontUSA

After Popular Clone, Cloneward Bound, and Game of Clones, Fisher and Alex are dealing with lots of changes. Their school is meeting in trailers by the King of Hollywood (which is nice for lunch), and their parents are openind Loopity Land, a science theme park. When a roller coaster ride goes badly awry, it turns out that it was actually a way to contact aliens who show up looking like very attractive twin girls-- 13 sets of them. Dubbed the Gemini, they want to experience life on earth, so the Bas family and the government concoct a story that they are foreign exchange students from Geminolvia. Things go pretty well (with the occasional explosion of aliens from anger) until the aliens want to throw a party at Fisher's house and eat a ton of food. Their population seems to expand, but Fisher and Alex start to realize that they only have one mind. With their parents off at meetings, the boys (and some friends) need to break into a science lab to figure out what's going on, only to find that a former nemesis is a surprising ally. Once again, we learn that space aliens are not quite being honest when they say they just want to come for a visit or to borrow a tiny bit of land.
Strengths: Pitch perfect teen voice (they're aliens... but they are so hot!), fun science tidbits, lots of action, and a flying pig make this a great series for elementary and middle school readers. The cartoon covers strike just the right balance to appeal to this age group. Very fun.
Weaknesses: Fisher's parent are pretty spacey, which always bothers me.
What I really think: Like the series, but hope it sticks to my five book limit! I'd love to see Castle do some realistic, humorous books!

23399295Mass, Wendy. Graceful.
April 28th 2015 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss

So, The Last Present is not the last book in the Willow Falls series, but this fifth volume seems to be. Angelina has left town, but keeps sending Grace cryptic postcards. All of Team Grace is having issues of one sort or another in the wake of Grace performing a forgetting spell. Grace's brother Connor is trying to invent 3D glasses. David's father has never been sick, so he has to adjust to his new life. Leo and Amanda are still dating, but sort of irritated with one another. Tara is enjoying life, still writing letters to Julie, and eventually investigates a writing career. Grace seems able to do a lot of magic for someone whose power was drained-- she can conjure up pizzas, but also is able to do some minor magic. She is bound and determined to find the vortex of power in Willow Falls, especially once the magic seems to be unraveling. With help from Angelina and her friends, Grace is finally able to tify up all of the loose, magical ends to her life and move on.
Strengths: Again, great covers, and a strong following. In fact, I think I am missing the first one in the series (why do students lose things?), so should probably get another copy.
Weaknesses: This was told in a rather choppy fashion, from lots of different perspectives. There were text messages, Tara's letters to Julie-- it got a bit confusing. I am not a fan of epilogues that take the characters twenty years into the future and marry them off, but that's what the ending of this is.
What I really think: I really didn't like this. Debating whether to buy it, since things ended pretty well in The Last Present, but suppose I should buy it.

Monday, March 23, 2015

MMGM-- Fatal Fever and Astrotwins

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. Nonfiction Monday also occurs today.

I thought that Shannon Hale's Princess in Black was so much fun that I bought a copy for my middle school library even though it's a bit "too young". When I read Shannon Hale's post on boys being excluded from her talks, I wasn't surprised. Appalled, yes, but not surprised. Yes, some books check out more to boys and some check out more to girls, but the whole reason behind SIX YEARS of Boys Read Pink is to encourage everyone to read everything. Always amuses me when something I've been doing for a long time "suddenly blows up". (#WeNeedDiverseBooks, anyone?)

22825553Jarrow, Gail. Fatal Fever: Tracking Down Typhoid Mary
March 10th 2015 by Calkins Creek
Copy Provided by Kerry McManus of Boyds Mills Press

A little more than 100 years ago, public sanitation was so completely different than it is today that it is almost unimaginable. Raw sewage being let loose in city streets or rural creeks, crowded living conditions complete with rats and all manner of bugs, and only rudimentary medications to help when people fell ill. This was the world of Typhoid Mary, aka Mary Mallon, the cook who was an unwitting carrier of typhoid in early 1900s New York and environs. Since she herself had never been ill with the fever, and was a clean person according to the standards of the time, she refused to believe that she was responsible for more than 20 deaths of people who fell ill after eating her cooking.

Even more interesting is the work of George Soper, a leader in the sanitation movement, who was able to pinpoint Mallon as a key figure in many of the typhoid outbreaks he was studying. His detection lead not only to Mallon's identification, but to the identities of several other carriers who sickened those around them while remaining well themselves. Also interesting is Josephine Baker, a NYC medical investigator who went on to work extensively with children's health initiatives. Mallon's story is an interesting one, and this book gives background information on typhoid as well as following Mallon's actions and the results of her stubborness to quit working on her employers. Well illustrated, with an excellent bibliography, this is a great addition to a middle school library collection for research, but also for readers who like literary nonfiction in the style of Russell Freedman or Jim Murphy.

It is hard for people today to understand what an epidemic is, or how terrible some diseases can be, which might explain the current trend in the news of people not wanting to vaccinate children. This book explains those things beautifully, and is an excellent companion to Julie Chibbaro's Deadly.

20759558Kelly, Mark and Freeman, Martha. Astrotwins: Project Blastoff
March 24th 2015 by Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Twins Mark and Scott have too much time on their hands, so their parents decide to send them for protracted visits with their grandfather in the summer of 1975. There, they have access to a barn full of old equipment, and decide to channel their love of tinkering into building a working space ship. With the help of Jenny, or "Egg" as they call her, who wants to use the ship for a science fair project, the kids research, get help from friends Barry and Howard, as well as the owner of a local body shop and his daughter, Lisa. It's very time consuming, and they aren't sure what fuel they can use, but that's where Jenny's teacher, Mr. Drizzle comes in. The kids all tell the grown-ups that they are just doing a recreation, but manage to get a space suit and helmet, refashioned out of a Vietnam era flight suit belonging to Barry's brother.  Mark is supposed to be the pilot, but ends up breaking his arm, so Scott is sent up instead. They manage to get the ship up, but this gets them into all kinds of trouble.
Strengths: A lot of reviewers have liked this for all of the science involved, and there's a LOT of it-- equations and everything. That's all well and good, but the appeal for middle grade readers will be the idea of being allowed to spend the summer riding around on purple banana seat Sting-Rays and building a rocket. Supportive (if somewhat clueless)parents, and just plain fun make this a great book to hand to a wide variety of readers.
Weaknesses: The inclusion of so much science makes the writing a bit didactic and wooden, but again... we have kids building a space ship in Grandpa's barn. Martha Freeman has written a lot of children's books, so maybe actual astronaut Mark Kelly's writing is represented in the less fluid portions of the text?
What I really think: Most middle grade readers will skip the overly scientific bits and enjoy the summer adventure. Teachers who want books about rockets will use the books in class, so it all works out rather well. Will buy a copy-- just wish the cover were a bit better.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

City Love and other YA books

18160600Colasanti, Susane. City Love
April 21st 2015 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC from Edelweissis

Three girls from different background end up in an apartment near Manhattan for the summer. Sadie's parents live very near, but she's glad to be away from them while still in her beloved NYC. Darcy is from California and having fun discovering the city. Rosanna is from Chicago and has always wanted to live in NYC, but finances are really, really tight. The three get along okay, and soon all have boyfriends. Sadie finds Austin, who is also interested in urban planning, Rich Darcy finds formerly wealthy Jude, who is working as a street performer and has been cut off by his parents. She also has a random encounter with a hot guy in a dressing room at the Gap, which is when I should have know that this was veering too far away from middle grade. All three girls make slight progress in their work and educational careers, but spend most of their time having idyllic romantic trysts in various New York venues.
Strengths: Middle grade girls love to read about girls in college, who have their own places, and who have romances. This would be great for that, but also included too much information for me to actually buy.
Weaknesses: One of the girls is molested as a child. One of the boyfriends ends up being married. Just ended up being TMI.
What I really think: Enjoyed tremendously, and would buy for high school or public library, just not for middle school.

18340618 Mills, Wendy. Positively Beautiful
March 3rd 2015 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens

I was so intrigued by this title, but I think it is more for a high school audience. Not because of the breast cancer issue, but because of Erin's dysfunctional reaction to it-- running away with someone's airplane is just not a good idea. Very intriguing book, but I just wanted to slap Erin for giving her already suffering mother an even harder time. I also found it a bit hard to understand why her mother wouldn't have gone ahead and had a double mastectomy to prevent further incursions of cancer.

From the Publisher:
"Erin Bailey's life changes forever the day her mom is diagnosed with breast cancer. It's always just been Erin and Mom, so living without her is not an option. Life takes another turn when the cancer is linked to a rare genetic mutation, and Erin must grapple with the decision of whether or not to have her own DNA tested. Her only outlets are flying lessons, where looking to the horizon calms her deepest fears, and her new friend Ashley, a girl she met in an online support group. But when a flash decision has Erin flying away to find her new friend, she embarks on a journey from the depths of despair to new love and a better understanding of the true meaning of beauty. This thought-provoking story brings readers to the emotional brink and back again, as they experience Erin's fear, her frustration, and ultimately . . . her freedom."

18718848 Arnold, David. Mosquitoland.
March 3rd 2015 by Viking Books for Young Readers

The only reason I finished this was because I was stuck at a band concert and had nothing else to read. Loved the cover and book design, but by page 9, when the f-bomb was dropped for the first time, I was already tired of Mim and the Young Adult prose style. Why does Young Adult prose often feel so... self indulgent? It's a perfect fit for high school students, who are that way themselves, but I vastly prefer the straight forward middle grade voice. Definitely look into this book for high school and public libraries, just not middle school ones. 

From the Publisher:
I am a collection of oddities, a circus of neurons and electrons: my heart is the ringmaster, my soul is the trapeze artist, and the world is my audience. It sounds strange because it is, and it is, because I am strange.

After the sudden collapse of her family, Mim Malone is dragged from her home in northern Ohio to the “wastelands" of Mississippi, where she lives in a medicated milieu with her dad and new stepmom. Before the dust has a chance to settle, she learns her mother is sick back in Cleveland.

So she ditches her new life and hops aboard a northbound Greyhound bus to her real home and her real mother, meeting a quirky cast of fellow travelers along the way. But when her thousand-mile journey takes a few turns she could never see coming, Mim must confront her own demons, redefining her notions of love, loyalty, and what it means to be sane.

Told in an unforgettable, kaleidoscopic voice, Mosquitoland is a modern American odyssey, as hilarious as it is heartbreaking.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Teddy Mars: Almost a World Record Breaker

22138391Burnham, Molly B. Teddy Mars: Almost a World Record Breaker
March 24th 2015 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Teddy has a large family, and the children are all very individual. Teddy's interests are Star Wars and the Guinness Book of World Records, which he eagerly peruses with his friend Lonnie. He's NOT a fan of his young brother Jake, who does disgusting things like climbing into Teddy's bed... with wet pajamas. Teddy gets a tent for his birthday and decides to move into the yard to live, and his parents, who have to look out for the interests of six children, let him. He finds an unlikely ally in Grumpy Pigeon Man, a next door neighbor who hires Teddy to take care of his pigeons, giving Teddy much needed cash to outfit his new home. Teddy goes through the year putting up with his family, trying to break records, and trying to stay out of trouble at school.
Strengths: Supportive family, realistic problems that are not horribly depressing, and some light humor make this a good choice for younger readers.
Weaknesses: This was broken up by chapters headed by months, but also had random paragraph headings in bold print that I found distracting. For a book this short, I would have liked a few more illustrations.
What I really think: I do need some books that are easier to read, and it's okay if they include younger characters. This, however, seemed more like a book for really strong second grade readers than weak 7th grade ones, so I think I will pass. Fine for elementary school libraries, though.
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