Thursday, March 22, 2018

When the Crickets Stopped Singing and Good Dog

Donahue, Marilyn Cram. When the Crickets Stopped Singing
20 March 2018, Calkins Creek
Copy provided by the publisher

It's very hot in the summer of 1939, and Angie is glad to see new neighbors move in. Reba Lu is the new minister's daughter, and the two get along well. Angie's other friend, Geraldine, joins them in thinking of activities for the long summer days, and the three decide that they will think about people in their town who might not be easy to like, and think of ways that they might be nicer to those people. One is a girl their age, Dodie Crumper, whose mother is a neglectful alcoholic. Another is the slightly odd older daughter of the kindly local doctor. Despite the rumblings of war in the national news, the girls have a fairly carefree summer working on their plan until they start to notice that one of the men in town is rather creepy. He watches them a bit too closely, makes some of the people in town uncomfortable, and is observed behaving in inappropriate ways with young girls... including Dodie. When a tragedy occurs, Angie must decide how to proceed in order to keep her town safe from this man's influences.
Strengths: This has a lot of good details about what daily life was like during this time period, and the book was written in a style that really brought it to life. The characters and their interests seemed true to the time period, and the inclusion of religion was interesting. The note at the end of the book about how public opinion and social mores have changed in regards to predators was very helpful.
Weaknesses: It was a bit hard for me to believe that Angie would have been believed, and the courtroom scene seemed odd, since the man hadn't been charged yet. I don't have a legal background, so maybe that's how crimes were investigated in the 1930s since I always need books for a seventh grade language arts project on historical eras.
What I really think: This covers a topic that is timely but rather depressing. The details were so fantastic that I really wish the topic had been more specific to 1939 and related to the history of the time.

35618037Gemeinhart, Dan. Good Dog
March 27th 2018 by Scholastic
Scholastic Book Club paperback copy

Brodie is a dog who has died and gone to a heaven-like afterlife where dogs run free. He is slowly remembering his life back on earth, and when he does, he realizes that he left his boy, Aidan, behind. He feels that the boy is in danger, so he talks to Tuck, a dog who has been there for a long time, and arranges to go back to earth so he can help. Tuck goes with him, even though both dogs know that they will forfeit their immortal souls. When Brodie arrives back near where his boy lived, he can't find him, and he is besieged by hell hounds who want to do him in. He and Tuck persevere and slowly learn the story of what happened to Brodie as well as Aidan's fate. Aidan does need a lot of protecting, and Brodie, although he is a spirit, manages to do everything he can to help keep his boy safe.
Strengths: Gemeinhart's writing gets better with every book, and readers who liked The Honest Truth will enjoy the emotional roller coaster of this book. Great cover.
Weaknesses: The hell hounds took time away from Brodie's essential mission and didn't seem essential to the plot.
What I really think: I'll probably buy a copy for readers who love dogs and want a tear jerker like Where the Red Fern Grows. Yes, it made me cry, and the writing is excellent, but I could have done without the stereotypical trashy, abusive father. Abuse comes in many more subtle forms.

This is a fantasy book, because there isn't an afterlife of any kind or description. Yes, the same can be said of ghosts or dragons, but it's just cruel to portray an afterlife where I could be together with my dog forever when that just isn't the case. We die, we die. The end.

Remember, this blog (and my reviews on Goodreads) lists MY OPINIONS. I know when to keep these opinions separate from my decisions to purchase books. I only purchase books that I think my students will read and enjoy. If you don't like my opinion, read the book yourself, and post your own review. You also don't have to agree with my opinion on the afterlife. You can just be wrong.

Wow. I must not be having a good day! Or the students are wearing off on me. Or it's time for spring break!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World and Love, Penelope

Happy first day of spring! Of course, we are celebrating that in Ohio with the traditional 2-4 inches of snow. Roads are clear, kids, so come to school!

Blake, Ashley Herring. Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World
March 6th 2018 by Little, Brown
Public Library Copy

Ivy and her older sister Layla have missed their mother's attention ever since their twin brothers were born. Their mother is the author and illustrator of children's books, but having twins at 41 took a lot out of her. When their small Georgia town is hit by a tornado and their house is destroyed, things get even worse. The family spends time in the school gym, and then rents a room at a local bed and breakfast run by Robin. Robin is very kind and supportive of Ivy, and the two understand each other since Robin's partner, Jessa, has made Robin's existence in a small Southern town a tiny bit complicated from time to time. Ivy is devastated by the loss of her home, as well as the loss of her private sketchbook, which is filled with pictures of her holding hands with a girl. When Layla found out from someone else that her best friend Gigi had a girlfriend, Ivy overheard them having a big fight, and both Gigi and Ivy have been at odds with Layla ever since. Ivy is also having trouble relating to her best friend, Taryn. Taryn is boy crazy, loves soccer, and just has different interests from Ivy now, which makes it hard when Ivy's parents send her to live with Taryn's family after one of the twins becomes very ill. Ivy has also made a new friend in June, the daughter of the town doctor. June's father lives in California, and her mother is weirdly overprotective, but Ivy and June share a love of art, poetry, and drawing. When Ivy starts getting pages from her notebook left in her locker with notes suggesting that she would feel better if she talked to someone, she is worried at first, but then somewhat reassured. She hopes that the person who found her notebook is June, since she has a growing feeling that she has a crush on June. Eventually, Ivy's problems with her friends, sisters, and parents reach a point where she must finally talk to all of the people she loves and explain why she has been struggling.
Strengths: Like One True Way and Star-Crossed, this is a great middle grade LGBTQ+ book. I loved Robin's advice that "If a person was [were!] questioning all this stuff, that person doesn't have to know all the answers. They don't have to be sure about anything. They don't have to label themselves as anything but human if they don't want to." I really enjoyed the 14 Hollow Road-like tornado plot as the jumping off point for so much of the turmoil. The fact that her family was supportive, her friends were okay, and June wasn't quite sure at first, but later decided that they could be friends, was a reassuring touch. Despite some drama, everyone acts with as much empathy as can be mustered. Even Gigi and Layla make up, since Layla was not upset about the sexuality of her friend, but by the fact that she kept it secret. Taryn feels the same way about Ivy.
Weaknesses: It seemed a bit contrived that there were two other gay women in the town who both knew Ivy, and it would have been interesting to see how Ivy would have reacted without their presence.
What I really think: There was a bit too much drama for my own taste, but since all stories are different, it's certainly within the realm of possibility. I have had a LOT of readers coming to me asking for books about gender identity and sexual identity.

I have a number I am able to hand them, but it just surprises me that they ask me. Of course, I grew up at a time when people did not discuss ANY sensitive issues outside of their own homes, and even at home, they discussed things in whispers. I have to say that I personally find this to be preferable, but I know that openness and transparency about all manner of issues are preferred today. I find that saying things out loud to other people only makes them worse!

30340847Rocklin, Joanne. Love, Penelope. (Illustrations by Lucy Knisley)
March 20th 2018 by Amulet Books
E ARC from Netgalley

Penelope lives in Oakland, California with her Mama and Sammy. Her father was killed in a motorcycle accident, and Sammy adopted her when she was young. She's a huge fan of the Golden State Warriors, even though her classmate, Hazel Pepper, is from Colorado and prefers the Nuggets. Now that Mama is expecting a baby, Penny is keeping a journal of notes to her sibling. In it, she details a school project her class has been assigned about her family's history in California. Sammy's background includes members of the Ohlone tribe, and since her class studied them in third grade, Penny appropriates fome of Sammy's background for her project. She feels guilty telling this untruth to her teacher, Mr. Chen, and doesn't quite know how to come clean. In the meantime, she and her friend Gabby watch lots of basketball games, think about the drought in California, and deal with the relocation of Nell, Gabby's goat. Penny also does learn a bit more about Sammy's heritage, but has to deal with some prejudice against her mothers at school. When summer arrives, a girls' basketball team is formed, her mothers are able to legally marry, and her sibling finally arrives.
Strengths: For readers who like books in journal format, this is a fairly well paced account of an elementary school student with fairly specific interests, a little friend drama, and a diverse background.
Weaknesses: This is not actually a notebook or graphic novel. There are a few illustrations, but it's mostly text. And would parents really tell a child when they were just one month pregnant? I thought everyone waited until a good three months, since so much can go wrong.
What I really think: Knisley should write a graphic novel. Her style is similar to Raina Telgemeier's and Victoria Jamieson's, and whatever those two write immediately appeals to my readers. Without the pictures, though, this is a bit too young for my students. With pictures, I'm pretty sure my students who like graphic novels would even read a book about potty training!
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Strange Star

Car35574996roll, Emma. Strange Star.
March 20th 2018 by Delacorte Press
Copy provided by the publisher

In 1816, Lord Byron invites Percy Shelley, his companion Mary Godwin and her sister, Claire, to the Villa Diodati in Switzerland. Felix, the black footman, narrates the story. The evening's entertainment is to tell scary stories. The group starts to tell their tales, but they are interrupted by a knock at the door. Since the occurrence coincided with a similar event in real life, this scares them, and they find a girl in great distress at the door. She seems to pass away before their eyes, but they manage to revive her in front of the fire. When she comes to, she asks for her sister, whom she accuses the Shelleys of kidnapping. We then delve further into Lizzie Appleby's backstory. She and her sister Peg live and farm with their parents in the English countryside. Their father is also a cabinet maker, and when a scientist moves to a big house in the area, the father takes a job making cabinets, leaving the girls to harvest. During a Midwinter's celebration, Lizzie's friend Mercy sees an omen that Lizzie and her mother will die in the coming year, which seems ridiculous, because both are hearty souls. When they are out desperately trying to finish work in the fields before a storm hits, both are hit by lightning. The mother dies, and Lizzie is in bed for months as well as blind when she finally takes the bandages from her eyes. Her sister, who loves animals but is considered a hellion, is intrigued by the scientist at the big house, and finds that evil doings are going on. Miss Stine, the scientist, invites both girls to live with her in order to be studied, but as the girls find out more and more about the evil occurring, she refuses to let them leave. This is why Peg leaves with the Shelleys, in order to escape. Mary Godwin's father comes after her and arranges with Lizzie to go with her to Switzerland to find them. This is a great help, since she is blind and has no money, but he only goes so far. Lizzie continues on her own and eventually finds her sister, but will the two girls be able to find somewhere where they can be safe?
Strengths: This is an intriguing group of people, and it is nice publication to honor the bicentennial of Frankenstein. Godwin is a fascinating character, and the inclusion of a story told by a simple country girl as the genesis of that book is an interesting fictional way to add some different elements to the mythology of this great tale. Details about country life in England in the early 1800s are very well done, and the difficulties faced by working families at the time are intriguing. Felix's perspective was also interested.
Weaknesses: There is not as much about the writers as I would have liked. While Lizzie and Peg's story was really interesting on its own, it wasn't exactly what I was expecting to read.
What I really think: This is a British publication, and I imagine that historical works about the early 1800s are in great demand in that country. I'm not sure about the appeal to young US readers, but creepy stories generally do well.

A Problematic Paradox

33024300Sappingfield, Eliot. A Problematic Paradox
January 23rd 2018 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
ARC provided by the publisher and reviewed at Young Adult Books Central

Nikola Kross is a bit of a social outcast, and her guidance conselour (whom she calls "Ms. Hiccup") advises her to try to make herself less of a target. That's hard for Nikola to do, considering that her mother went missing when she was very young, and her father is an eccentric scientific inventor who has set up two mobile homes inside an abandoned SuperMart in North Dakota for the two to live in. When she is accosted on the way home from school by a very weird girl named Tabbabitha, Nikola is very worried when she gets home and her father is nowhere to be found in their compound. When she is later attacked and manages to run off, Ms. Hiccup appears, saying that she was given a pager by Nikola's father, with the instructions that she was to pick up Nikola and drive her to a specific location if the pager ever went off. The two head to Iowa ("On purpose?"), follow circuitous directions, are attacked by a swarm of enormous bees, and finally end up at The School. Nikola's father is a friend of the founder of this institution, Dr. Plaskington, who doesn't seem surprised that Nikola's father was abducted. The Old Ones are on the move, and everyone in the school is preparing for them to attack. Nikola manages to settle in as much as possible, and actually make a friend in her roommate, Hypatia. For once, the scientific curriculum and geeky classmates make her feel right at home. Tabbabitha is still a threat, and The School is preparing its students to fight the Old Ones. Will it be enough preparation for Nikola to survive and locate her father?

Readers who enjoy stories set in schools for children with special powers such as Black and Clare's Magisterium series, Bell's Uncommoners, or Nimmo's Charlie Bone will be enthralled with the details of life in The School. The whole town seems to be part of the campus, and the different magical shops and restaurants as well as the great classes and quirky teachers will appeal to those who want to imagine schools where all of the students are magically minded. While Nikola didn't get along perfectly with all of the students, I especially appreciated that there weren't any real enemies for her there, either. Fighting Tabbabitha and the Old Ones was problematic enough!

I almost wish that we had seen more of Nikola's daily life in the SuperMart before her father was kidnapped. What an imaginative setting. I especially liked her description later in the book of how her father cleaned-- when things got bad enough, he just replaced the mobile homes! Don't we all dream of that when contemplating the area behind the refrigerator?

Having Nikola be the heroine of a science infused story line is quite a nice idea, since girls are often underrepresented in science fiction tales. This reminded me quite a bit of Jennifer Strange in Jasper Fforde's The Chronicles of Kazam, or Lucy Carlisle in Stroud's Lockwood and Company. Of course, the missing father makes definite parallels to the newly repopular A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. It's good to be reminded that girls can vaporize aliens just as well, if not better, than the boys.

Monday, March 19, 2018

MMGM- The Sky at Our Feet

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Always in the Middle and #IMWAYR day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday.

Hashimi, Nadia. The Sky at Our Feet
March 6th 2018 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Jason and his mother live in Elkton, where his mother works in a laundry, and the two live in a small but cozy apartment. One day, his mother tells him that while he was born in the US and is an American citizen, she came to the US on a student visa while Jason's father remained, working as a translator for the US military. After he was killed, she struggled to raise him and has never applied for asylum, even though her friend Seema keeps telling her to. Not long after, his mother is picked up by the police at her place of work, and Jason panics. He grabs a back pack and a few granola bars, and starts off for his Aunt Seema's apartment in New York City. The venture does not start off well-- he loses his backpack and later passes out, hitting his head and ending up in the hospital. He pretends to have amnesia, so buys himself a little time. He meets Max, and girl who is vague about why she is in the hospital, and the two decide to break out and get to Seema's. They do manage to get out, and make their way across the city. Max really wants to see the zoo, and the children manage to get in. Max's medical problems catch up with her, however, but she tells Jason to go on without her. He has several adventures of his own and eventually makes it to Seema's. The big question still remains, however; what will happen to his mother, and to him if she is returned to Afghanistan?
Strengths: The issues of Jason's mother's immigration challenges are related in a realistic, sympathetic, and understandable way. Jason's love for his mother and his Afghan culture are very sweet. The adventure in New York City is what will sell this to children, especially since Jason even has a brush with celebrity. This put me in mind of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler in the best possible way.
Weaknesses: While I would have adored reading the adventure in this when I was 12, just about every decision that Jason makes appalls me as an adult. I also was alarmed by how little planning Jason's mother had done. As a single parent, it seems that she would have had an emergency plan for Jason even if she hadn't had the additional worry of immigration on her mind.  Also, I would have liked a bit more detail about Jason's every day life before his mother's detainment.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. This is a great mix of adventure and very realistic problems, told from an #ownvoices perspective.

When my daughter was in kindergarten, I actually enlisted a neighbor in a drill for my daughter about what she would do if I collapsed unconscious on the sidewalk during our mile walk to school. No joke. She had to know our emergency contact name and phone number in case she had to knock on a neighbor's door and have them call the squad for me. Perhaps I worried a little TOO much, but clearly Jason's mother could have worried a little more!

I had a lovely week with my younger daughter home from college, and she'll be home again this weekend so we can go to the Weird Al concert! We are super excited for the Ill-Advised Vanity Tour and bought the tickets in August!

I just completed my 1,001st review on Edelweiss! I feel like I should get a tiny reward... you know, like a Jolly Rancher or something.

Things are a little better now, but there are still bludgeoning things happening all too frequently. The latest was a huge water leak at the fantastic Westerville Public Library that supplies me and my students with books. I had one boy I thought would start to cry when he heard the children's collection might not be circulating for a while. At least I have spring break in a week. That's always a good time to rededicate myself to reading, get a little more sleep, and take Sylvie on lots and lots of walks. While I'm reading!
Ms. Yingling

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Playing Cupid

30652381Meyerhoff, Jenny. Playing Cupid
January 31st 2017 by Scholastic Paperbacks
Library Copy

Clara Martinez has a knack for gauging people's interests and fixing them up with each other, which she and a friend occasionally do at the mall. When she has to come up with a business idea for a school project, she decides to run a matching service for students at her school so that everyone can have someone with whom to dance at the Hot Chocolate Social. There are a lot of other things going on in Clara's life-- her mother left "to find herself" when Clara was young, but Clara's father is concerned that he isn't the best one to raise her. Her friendship with Alivia is fraught with difficult social situations, made more difficult by the fact that Clara only had one friend at her previous school. She has a secret admirer, but doesn't know his identity. Her friend Emily is in danger of being marginalized out of the group. Add to that her struggles in school, and a lot is riding on the success of her business project!
Strengths: This reminded me, in the best possible way, of the Betty Miles' books I read as a tween. Realistic problems, friend drama, school setting-- very fun. I have a lot of readers this year who like light romantic fiction, and this is perfect for those readers.
Weaknesses: This is listed as a Wish Novel, but the others are written by Suzanne Nelson. I wish that Scholastic would publish hard cover versions of these, but I guess I'll have to stick with the prebinds. By the time the pages turn yellow and start to smell, the fashions and technology are probably outdated.
What I really think: Purchasing all the Scholastic books like this I can find, especially You're Bacon Me Crazy, since it involves food trucks!

36671989Bond, Michael. Paddington on Top
January 2nd 2018 by HarperCollins
Originally Published January 1st 1974
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

When school inspectors come to the Browns' door and claim that it is necessary for Paddington to report to school, everyone is a bit surprised. At first, it sounds like a good idea, since they take rolls (role), but after his teacher, Mr. Eustace, confiscates all of his marmalade sandwiches, Paddington has his doubts. Sensing that the bear will be trouble, Mr. Eustace sends him out to get the fish for science class, and the bear of course comes back with fish fingers instead of something that can be dissected. In the end, the school feels that Paddington can wait out a bit longer, perhaps until he finds a uniform. Other stories within this volume include a venture selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door, visiting the Royal Courts of Justice, a birthday treat, and an attempt at physical fitness.

These are all episodic, and Paddington remains his cheerful, somewhat dense self throughout each story. He is, of course, extremely well meaning, and most of the people with whom he comes in contact are glad to help him out, even if they are a little confused by him. This book is a bit unusual because the Brown children must be off at school, and Paddington interacts mainly with adults in his neighborhood, especially his friend Mr. Gruber.

The first book in this series of twelve, A Bear Called Paddington, came out in 1958, and Paddington on Top was originally published in 1974. There is definitely an old-fashioned quality to the narrative as well as the settings. Letting children (or bears!) leave school, people selling things door-to-door, and even small details like Paddington raising his hat in greeting are all occurrences that modern young readers may not understand. For those of us who remember such things, however, this book is a very gentle, comforting read, and the Peggy Fortnum illustrations reinforce that cozy quality.

Michael Bond passed away in 2017, but readers who enjoy classics like Sharp's The Rescuers, Streatfield's Shoe books, and the stories of Roald Dahl will enjoy the Amelia Bedelia-like adventures of our favorite bear from Darkest Peru. The popularity of the more recent movies will make this accessible to those who have been introduced to Paddington's world on screen as well.

Zahler, Diane. Sleeping Beauty's Daughters
August 27th 2013 by Harpercollins
Library copy

Aurora and Luna are tired of living a quiet existence with their father and mother, the Princess Aurora of Sleeping Beauty fame. Both parents are understandably overly cautious, especially since Aurora was also cursed... but if she pricks her finger, she will be the only one sleeping and wake alone. Luna is the younger sister and is especially displeased with all of the strictures about sharp objects, since she is not affected. Of course, Aurora manages to prick her finger, but the two sisters set off to find a way to reverse the curse. They are aided by a little magic tea that keeps Aurora awake, and a fisherman, Symon, who takes a liking to Aurora. Will they be able to connect with the key figures from their mother's past in order to give Aurora a future?
Strengths: Zahler's books are popular with my readers who love fairy tale adaptations, and the covers are so gorgeous.
Weaknesses: Had a hard time getting into this one. I didn't like Luna very much.
What I really think: I apparently read this a number of years ago, but somehow didn't purchase it. I don't know that I have ever posted a review of the same book twice. Oh, well.

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, March 17, 2018

King, Zach: My Magical Life

Schulz, Charles. I'm Not Your Sweet Babboo! (Peanuts Collection #10)
March 13th 2018 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Copy provided by the publisher

This collection of strips, which seems to date from about 1977 if I have placed the character of Molly Volley correctly with the help of the Peanuts Wiki (who knew there was such a thing?), concentrate on the adventures of the Peanuts characters, mainly at school. Peppermint Patty and Marcie seem to appear more than usual, with Patty attending a dog training school hoping to get out of going to regular school, and Patty and Marcie investigating a country club. Linus has an interesting interaction with a girl he meets at a farm, which angers Sally. This explains the cover. It is rather amazing how well the vast majority of the strips hold up; the only reference I completely did not get was to Bruce Cabot, an actor who appeared in King Kong. There is a baseball team of younger children (Milo, Ruby and Leland) who ask Charlie Brown to help coach them, which was something I didn't remember at all!

Schulz is a cultural icon, and I would love to have this collection in a prebind so that I could include it in my school library. Paper backs only last about three years, no matter how much tape and glue we use! If children insist on reading comics, they might as well be the wholesome and funny panels that still appear in the newspaper today! I really wish that the original dates of publication would be listed on both the newspaper strips as well as collections like these.

I also think that buildings should all be required by law to list the date of construction and any major renovation at the same location by a main entrance, but I don't think that is likely to happen!

King, Zach. My Magical Life (#1)
September 26th 2017 by HarperCollins
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Zach comes from a magical family, and his relatives all have objects they use to channel their magic. Zach's father has a pocket watch, but Zach can't seem to find an object of his own. His parents are worried that the magic has "skipped" him, so they decide to enroll him in public school instead of homeschooling him, so that he can learn to deal with regular people. He's lucky to make a friend in Aaron right away, but he also makes an enemy of popular girl and bully Tricia. When Zach finds himself behind the glass in a vending machine (without his clothes on!), he's embarrassed, but also hopeful that he has some magic in him. Aaron loves to make videos, so he and Zach try to figure out what Zach's magic item is, finally settling on two baseball caps (snapbacks). Zach can use these to transport himself and objects, which is very helpful. After Tricia is mean to him again, he fills her locker with chocolate pudding, which explodes all over her. When Zach and Aaron accidentally transport an alligator, with disastrous results, they realize that Zach needs to learn to harness his magic more effectively. Perhaps he will in the next book in this series, Zach King: The Magical Mix-Up, which is due to be published on May 1, 2018.

This book has a lot of colorful interior illustrations on nice, heavy paper, but since it is a jacketed hardback, I think it will hold up better than some similar books in paperback. There are full color descriptions of all of the characters at the beginning of the book, and occasional comic strip style panels throughout the story.

It's easy to believe that Zach's family is magic, and the story doesn't belabor his lack of magic, but rather gives him lots of opportunities to discover what his talents and his objects are. He runs into some predictable trouble, but it's nice to see him work through the process with the help of a good friend.

Zach King is apparently an internet phenomenon, and there is a free app that accompanies this book available at I have to admit that I didn't look at any of the videos or investigate the app, but young readers might find both of these things of interest.

Magic is always an appealing subject to young readers. Fans of King's internet exploits or books like Callaghan's Just Add Magic, Osborne's Magic Treehouse books, Geronimo Stiltoon's illustrated exploits, or older titles like Edward Eager's books will find My Magical Life to be a pleasant diversion.

This is an optional purchase for school libraries unless there is a huge fan base for Zach King: it's an attractive book, but not very well written.

Friday, March 16, 2018

The Science of Breakable Things

29414515Keller, Tae. The Science of Breakable Things
March 6th 2018 by Random House
ARC provided by publisher through Follett's First Look Program

Natalie is dealing with a lot-- her best friend, Mikayla, no longer talks to her; she likes her teacher Mr. Neely but is occasionally overwhelmed by his enthusiasm; and her mother is so depressed that she doesn't get out of bed most days. Natalie knows this is because her mother was fired from her job at the university botany department by Mikayla's mother, but she wishes that she had her "old" mother back. When Mr. Neely suggests that she enter the Egg Drop competition for her science inquiry project, Natalie doesn't really want to, but thinks that she could use the prize money to cheer her mother up by taking her to Mexico to see the rare Cobalt Blue orchid that she was studying. Natalie works with her best friend, Twig, whose mother was a super model and doesn't always see eye to eye with her daughter, and eventually the two work with Dari, a fairly new student as well. Dari is very smart, but is having trouble making friends. The group tries many different ways to cushion their eggs for the drop (my favorite is using marshmallows and chocolate for the S'megg! If only they had incorporated a graham cracker box!). They sneak into the school to practice dropping the egg from a height, and their stealth tactics come in handy later in the book. Natalie's father is a therapist who makes Natalie see Dr. Doris to talk, and eventually things come to a head and her mother also must be brought into the conversation.
Strengths: The situation with Mikayla is SO true to life. Very strange things happen with middle school friendships, and the reasons aren't always clear. There is a good mix of home and school life that I wish I would see in more books. Natalie's ethnic heritage is interesting-- her father is half Italian and half Korean (but not being interested in anything Korean), and her mother is described as having blonde hair. There's a lot of support for Natalie all around, even though it isn't always effective. There are enough other things going on in the story to make the book interesting. Love the cover.
Weaknesses: I have come to the conclusion that I am the only person involved in #MGLit who is tired of all of the depressing stories. Everyone else (including Kate DiCamillo and Matt de la Pena) and is coming out with articles about why Sad Is Good. Fine. It must some horrible, Trump-induced Zeitgeist. I don't get it, but I have given up complaining. All I know is that sad books make me sad, and I don't need any help in that direction. I think a much better plan, when bad things happen, is to ignore them and move on. NO ONE agrees.
What I really think: I will probably purchase. The cover is appealing, the length is right, and it's less depressing than a lot of books.

TWO-WEEK BLOG TOUR (March 5th – 16th)
Week One:
·         3/5/18: Mommy Ramblings
·         3/6/18: The OWL
·         3/7/18: Bumbles and Fairy Tales
·         3/8/18: Cracking the Cover
·         3/9/18: The Book Reaper
Week Two:
·         3/12/18: Fiktshun
·         3/13/18: Word Spelunking
·         3/14/18: The Lovely Books Blog
·         3/15/18: Oh, For the Hook of a Book
·         3/16/18: Ms. Yingling Reads

Ms. Yingling

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Stick Dog Crashes a Party

34848489Watson, Tom. Stick Dog Crashed a Party
March 6th 2018 by HarperCollins
Purchased Copy

Stick Dog and his friends are hungry. After a hilarious episode with a ketchup packet, they decide to go and get pizza at Pizza Palace. When they arrive there, they see a car with two humans and two cats who look vaguely family. It's Stick Cat, Stripes' soul mate! The humans are picking up a pizza and are in town for their wedding. The dogs make plans for getting themselves invited, but since it is at a park, that's easy. Karen still chases her tail a lot, but in between there are a lot of plans the dogs need to make. Stick Cat watches from afar, and aids the dogs in any way he can. When the humans are distracted from the food by fireworks, the dogs dig in, gorging themselves on mashed potatoes and ribs. The other dogs manage to get cake, but Stick Dog is busy arranging things and doesn't get any. Luckily, Stick Cat sees his plight and rolls the top layer of the cake down the hill for the hungry dogs.
Strengths: Stick Dog is the consummate professional.  Watson's career as a political speech writer is definitely evident in this installment-- the verbal machinations through which Stick Cat goes to not insult his friends are hysterical. He is the only one with any strategic acumen, and the dogs would all clearly starve without him. I had forgotten the intersection with Stick Cat; I'm not as big a fan of those, as Edith the cat is not very pleasant. These are so clever and make me laugh so much! Investing in a PermaBound set in the fall, since the paper over board covers wear horribly.
Weaknesses: Edith is not a pleasant character. So spoiled and nasty. Why would stick cat be friends with her? Of course, their humans are together, so it's unavoidable. I sort of hoped that Stick Cat would run away and join Stick Dog's pack.
What I really think: Every middle school librarian should go out and read one of these books RIGHT NOW. You will not be disappointed. Sylvie approves of these books!