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. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

MMGM-Hook's Revenge

18401242Schulz, Heidi. Hook's Revenge
September 16th 2014 by Disney-Hyperion 
E ARC from Netgalley.com

Jocelyn's grandfather is tired of her antics, so sends her off to a finishing school, where he hopes they will break her of the tendencies she inherited from her father, Capt. James Hook. On the advice of Rodger, the kitchen boy, "She tried to make a game of finding ways to satisfy Miss Eliza without feeling like she was selling her own soul," which does help her get through her lessons, although she still likes to explore the school grounds with Rodger, whose company she prefers to her snooty roommates. When she and Rodger are caught together and accused of impropriety, Jocelyn takes this as an opportunity to run away and seek the adventure she craves... and after a letter is delivered to her from her deceased father, she is transported to Neverland. There, she finds Smee and some of Hook's remaining crew, and vows to find the crocodile who killed her father. After running into the crocodile and letting him get away, her resolve is strengthened, and she and her crew redouble their efforts. After a run in with Capt. Kreuger of the Flying Dutchman, Jocelyn is swept overboard. She has a run in with Tiger Lily, as well as the Lost Boys, and finds that Rodger is now working with Peter Pan and doesn't remember her or their life at the school. Jocelyn managed to save a fairy prince, find out more information about her mother, Evelina, and is able to rally people she meets in Neverland to help her. Will it be enough to finally defeat the crocodile?
Strengths: Jocelyn is absolutely delightful. In addition to wanting to seek adventure but realizing that irritating the teachers at the finishing school was not in her best interest, she has a wonderful interchange with one of the Lost Boys, who wants her to be his "mother" and make sure he takes his medicine or "you will be sorry." To this she replies "I am most certainly not here to be your mother. What is the obsession with mothers here? You and those lost boys will just have to wash, mend, and story yourselves. I have my own business to attend to." (p.123) The boy then offers to still rescue Jocelyn, and she assures him that she doesn't need rescuing; she is on the pirate ship because she is the captain! The twist on the Peter Pan is well done (I wonder if the Greater Ormond Street Children's Hospital is getting any sort of donation?), there's plenty of action and adventure, and I will be looking forward to the sequel next fall, The Pirate Code.
Weaknesses: The plot is a little weak-- will killing the crocodile really serve any  purpose? It's a good excuse to get Jocelyn to Neverland. I'm curious to see how her continued presence in Neverland is explained.

21891469Shecter, Vicky Alvear. Hades Speaks!: A Guide to the Underworld by the Greek God of the Dead.
September 1st 2014 by Boyds Mills Press
Copy received from the author

In this short, well-illustrated book, Hades tells us about his life and domain in a funny, sarcastic tone. A wide variety of underworld related material is included: Greek burial rites, the story of Persephone, descriptions of Hades realms and the monsters therein, and lots of stories. There is always a huge interest in mythology in my school, and this will be a great book to hand to students after they have finished all of the Kate McMullan Myth-o-mania books.

This author's Anubis Speaks! A Guide to the Afterlife by the Egyptian God of the Dead was a Cybils' finalist in 2013.
Strengths: Shecter's research into everything on the ancient world is always good, and she clearly enjoys that time period. The cover (with its shiny red eyes) will immediately draw readers in, and they will get lots of good information about mythology while having a good laugh. The Edward Gorey-esque illustrations suit the mood of the book well, and the length and amount of information included is just right.
Weaknesses: From a school stand point, I'm not crazy about the paper-over-boards format. Books with dust jackets hold up so much better, and this will see a lot of use! From a personal standpoint, I prefer a more serious treatment of the gods (D'Aulaire, Hamilton) since my children were intent on actually becoming pagans and worshipping them at one point in early elementary school, but I know that most of my readers prefer the funny spin on the myths!

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.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Jessica Darling #2

18619857McCafferty, Megan. Jessica Darling's It List 2: The (Totally Not) Guaranteed Guide to Friends, Foes, and  Faux Friends
September 23rd 2014 by Poppy
E ARC from Netgalley.com

After her tragic turn as the school mascot, Jessica gets another list from her older sister Bethany-- this one a little more cryptic than the last and dealing with the issue of friends and enemies. This is something that Jessica really struggles with. Since she isn't on the CHEER TEAM and her former BFF Bridget is. She also feels left out of Manda and Dara's dynamic duo, and is not as comfortable with boys as her friends are. When Jessica is seen talking to Scotty, Dori's boyfriend, rumors circulate that they would be an item, and Jessica worries about the effect this rumor will have on her social life, especially since she is taking notice of Aleck, who is in the wood shop class SHE IS NOT SUPPOSED TO BE TAKING. Cross Country seems to be the one place where Jessica is happy and comfortable, especially after a group Halloween costume falls apart and a slumber party fails disastrously. Never fear-- Jessica survives and will be back with another book next fall.
Strengths: Like The Dork Diaries and The Clique, this book showcases the worst of middle school girl behavior. Reading  about this is somehow very comforting to girls going through similar experiences, even though I can only think of ONE student in 20 years that was anywhere close to being as annoying as Manda and Sara. It's nice that Jessica is a "late bloomer" and not as boy crazy as some of her friends. Her grandmother makes a nice appearance.
Weaknesses: A bit over the top and a bit heavy on message, even though the bulk of the story reads like the "Was My Face RED!" columns in teen magazines.

22294254DK Publishing. The Fashion Book
September 15th 2014 by DK Publishing
ARC from Baker and Taylor.

I love READING about fashion even though I can't dress myself properly, so this was especially fun. Historical information on different fashions through the ages combined with ways to work those fashions into modern dress. If I ever want to dress like a 1940s "retro tomboy" or rock a "retro Bohemian" look from 1909, I'll know where to turn.

Unfortunately, my students tend to be the opposite of me-- they dress fashionably but don't want to read about it. There is a lot of information in the book, though, and it would be a must have for a larger or public library. I do wonder if the final copy will be in color instead of all black and white.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Death Coming Up the Hill

20256629Crowe, Chris. Death Coming Up the Hill
7 October 2014, HMH Books for Young Readers
ARC from Baker and Taylor

Ashe is dealing with two wars-- the Vietnam Conflict, which is in the news and his history classroom, and the war between his parents. Ashe's father was a promising football player in college before Ashe's mother got pregnant with him, and the two now fight over everything. The father is very right wing, and the mother has started to go to peace rallies. When a new girl moves to his school (and I have given my ARC away already to our new language arts teacher, so I apologize for not remembering her name), Ashe is intrigued by her views on the war, the fact that her brother is off fighting, and the close and pleasant relationship her family has. When his parents marriage falls apart, Ashe is left with horrible choices.
Strengths: There are very few novels set during this period, and this would be okay for 8th graders, although does come very close to the YA line. Bonus points for construction-- it's all in haiku, with the same number of syllables as there were US military casulties during the conflict. This also explores Civil Rights topics of the era.
Weaknesses: The form, although clever, doesn't add a lot to the story. My students lack basic background on this era, and poetry books don't fill in the information as much as they need to. I found the mother and father to be really reprehensible, which took away from the story for me, and also edged this toward YA. I can't fathom that the mother would have favored an unborn child over her 17 year old son, but if she hadn't made that choice, the book wouldn't have been so dramatic. I don't think I'll buy this title, but high schools should certainly investigate it.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Guy Friday- Guys Read: True Stories

20482994Sciezcka, Jon. Guys Read: True Stories
September 16th 2014 by Walden Pond Press  
E ARC from Edelweiss

Well, someone is paying a little bit of attention to all of the new Language Arts standards, although I always have to remember that the personal narrative of which teachers are so fond is frowned upon. This collection showcases amusing NONFICTION pieces on a variety of topics, from Jim Murphy’s painful treatise on the history of dentistry, to Candace Fleming’s account of the elephant Jumbo in Barnum and Bailey’s circus, to Steve Sheinkin’s alarming account of a ship’s crew stranded in the Sahara desert and sold into slavery. There are two cartoon accounts that I couldn’t read well because the E ARC was only available with pictures in a 4 point font, but students will definitely like those. The stand out for me was Douglas Florian’s science poems! I’m super picky and rhyme and meter, but these were really, really good. Definitely investigating his work for purchase in my library.  Other authors contributing are Nathan Hale , James Sturm, Douglas Florian, Sy Montgomery , T. Edward Nickens and Thanhha Lai, who has a marvelous piece on what it was like to grow up in Vietnam in the 1960s and 70s. (Since we were born the same year, I found it fascinating. )

Remember, just like not telling children that the pasta is whole wheat, we don’t HAVE to tell anyone that this supports the Common Core. It’s just fun to read! 

20821303Levine, Kristin. The Paper Cowboy.
September 4th 2014 by Putnam Juvenile  

Downer Grove, Illinois was an interesting place in 1953. Tommy Wilson lives in a neighborhood where the neighbors raise chickens and vegetables, and are from a variety of places in the world, having been displaced by World War II. When his sister Mary Lou is badly burned while burning the trash in the back yard, Tommy has to take over her paper route. This event also pushes his already stressed mother over the edge. A new baby, the death of her mother, Mary Lou's extensive hospital stay and attendant bills and incipient mental illness drives the mother to regularly flog Tommy with a belt for the most minor infractions. Tommy, in turn, takes his anger out on others, especially, Sam, the son of local grocery store owner Mr. McKenzie. Sam was burnt in the war, his father was in a concentration camp, and Mrs. McKenzie is in the hospital dying of tuberculosis, but this doesn't stop Tommy from giving Sam a hard time. Tommy rather likes Sam, but his friend Eddie (whose father has lost his job for drinking) is merciless. Tommy plants a communist newspaper in Mr. McKenzie's store, and the neighbors stop shopping there. Tommy feels bad about this and decides that an older neighbor lady, Mrs. Kopecky, must be the communist. He makes an arrangement with her where he will teach her to read English if she teaches him to play the accordion, and he hopes to be able to discover something that will prove that she is a communist. Everything in Tommy's life continues to devolve into chaos, but when his mother reaches a critical state, the neighbors do pull together to try to make life better for the family, and for others in the neighborhood as well. 
Strengths: This is certainly a little covered historical time period, and a fairly interesting story. The coverage of paper carriers is particularly interesting, since it's something with which today's youth have no experience. Levine did her research, and her prose is readable. The inclusion of a neighbor who studied psychology and attended lectures by Sigmund Freud was interesting.
Weaknesses: I wanted to like this more than I did. It went on a bit long, there were too many different problems. Tommy wasn't a convincing bully, and his mother's mental illness didn't quite ring true. Even the concern about communism seemed off-- from talking to older relatives, it always seemed like everyone thought McCarthy was an idiot, and regular middle class people didn't concern themselves with neighbors who might be communist, but that could just be the people I know. I also wonder how many girls were paper carriers in the 1950s. Entirely possible, but possibly a rare occurrence.

The thing that bothered me most is not Ms. Levine's fault-- the bike shown on the cover didn't look right, and in fact Norco Performance Bikes weren't manufactured until the 1960s. Why not include an iconic Schwinn on the cover?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Cybils! Cybils!

The Cybils are Coming!Choosing judges is so hard, because there are always about 45 people I would like to include. I don't want to get rid of anyone who has served before, but like to include new people. Like to balanace librarians, parents, writers, etc.

If you weren't chosen, please stick around, continue to blog about books, and apply next year! Also remember to nominate your favorite books in the different categories, starting in October.

Here are the lovely people who volunteered to work with me in Middle Grade Fiction this year! We are all ready to READ!

First Round

Mark Buxton

Earl Dizon

Rosemary Kiladitis

Kyle Kimmal

Deb Marshall

Brenda Tjaden

Karen Yingling

Second Round

Alex Baugh

Terry Doherty

Jennifer Donovan

Heidi Grange

Skink: No Surrender

17978481Hiaasen, Carl. Skink: No Surrender
25 September 2014, Knopf Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Netgalley.com

Richard has troubles of his own-- his father was killed in a skateboarding accident, and his stepfather is a bit vague if supportive. But his cousin Malley is trouble. Her parents are sending her away to school at Twigg Academy so that everyone can have a break. She says she is going early for orientation, but Richard doubts her... and has reason to be. She has run off with a guy she met on the internet named Talbo Chock, but Richard researches and finds out the the real Talbo died in combat. Having met a wildlife activist, Clint Tyree aka Skink, on the beach, Richard enlists his aid in finding his cousin, since the law enforcement called doesn't seem to think Malley is in danger. Richard and Skink take off, to the dismay of Richard's mother. Skink reassures her he's okay, and puts her in contact with his agent, Mr. Tile. Taking clues from brief phone calls, Richard and Skink locate the runaway couple, and follow the trail through the wetlands until they find them on a houseboat. Malley clearly is scared and wants to get away, but Talbo is clearly unhinged and does not want to let her go. Luckily, Skink is a tough old bird who won't give up, even if it means fighting alligators!
Strengths: This is action packed, like Chomp, but is grittier than anything Hiaasen has done for younger readers. Chomp has some good comic moments, but this had the element of real-life-scary suspense. Not only is Richard in danger from things that come out of the water and can kill you, but Malley has very foolishly put herself in danger by ignoring every internet predator warning she has ever gotten. Skink is a fabulous character, and one that we don't see enough in MG fiction-- an older person who is fully in charge of his faculties and of the situation! While this is "gritty", there's really nothing in it that makes it inappropriate for younger readers. Hiassen has really found the perfect mix between his adult stories and middle grade interests with this great book.
Weaknesses: A bit of suspension of disbelief is called for, and there are some gory scenes and a death that might upset very young readers, although it is handled believably and is the result of the characters karma. I would give this to 5th graders, but perhaps not to younger readers.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


20578966Larson, Kirby. Dash.
August 26th 2014 by Scholastic Press 
E ARC from Netgalley.com

After the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, Mitsi's life in Seattle falls apart. Her friends no longer talk to her, and her family is given a week to report to a relocation camp. They sell or give away many of their belongings, but Mitsi is devastated to learn that she will not be able to take her beloved dog, Dash, with her. No one seems to want Dash, but eventually, a new neigbhor, Mrs. Bowker, agrees to take him in. Once Mitsi arrives in a camp, she must spend her time acclimating herself and her family. Her grandmother finds other older ladies to hang out with, and her parents busy themselves as well, but her brother Ted falls in with a bad crowd of teenaged boys who steal and generally cause trouble. Eventually, the family gets moved to somewhat nicer quarters and settle in, and Mitsi even makes a friend, Debbie. Mrs. Bowker has been sending Mitsi letters from Dash, and after a while, dogs are allowed at the camps, and Mrs. Bowker travels to deliver him.
Strengths: This had a lot of good details about what life was like for Japanese-Americans during this time period, and covers the events leading up to Japanese going into camps as well as events that happen once the family is there. Clearly, Larson has done her research. This also kept me turning the pages even though I've read a number of books on this subject. A good companion book to this author's Duke, and is a good resource if World War II is studied in school.
Weakneses: Mitsi's emotion was tied up more in Dash (and in her brother) rather than in anger at being in a camp. There are quite a few books out there on this topic-- Kadohata's Weedflower, Conkling's Sylvia and Aki, and baseball themed ones from Fitzmaurice and Hughes. Uchida's Journey to Topaz (1971) is still excellent, and based on her personal experiences. For emotional impact, I still think that Julie Otsuka's When the Emperor Was Divine is still the most gut wrenching, especially when it comes to pets. This is certainly a good choice for a fresh title on this topic, although there are others I would buy instead if I had a limited need for books about the Japanese Internment.
Template: Blog Designs by Sheila | Artwork: 123RF Stock Photos