Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Rules for Thieves

27424750Ott, Alexandra. The Rules for Thieves
June 6th 2017 by Aladdin
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Allie Roscoe is in an Azeland orphanage, but isn't excited about Adoption Day. She's been adopted before, and things didn't work out, so she is surly to prospective parents, and then decides to run away, not thinking about what she would do afterwards. Hungry, she tries to steal something and is almost caught. Luckily, she meets Beck, who helps her and tells her about the Thieves Guild, and offers to take her there to come under their protection. Unluckily, she has been cursed with Xeroth's Blood by one of the city's Protectors, and will die in nine days unless she can get to the far off Healing Springs and pay ten thousand majas to enter. She and Beck go to the king of the Thieves Guild, and he agrees to help them... after they complete the task of stealing Lady Atherton's necklace. This is a complicated matter, and takes a lot of preparation and cunning. The two manage to steal the necklace, but the theft does not go smoothly, and there is a death. Will Allie manage to get to the Healing Springs in time? Will she and Beck be accepted into the Guild?
Strengths: Hard core fantasy readers who like books like Nielsen's The False Prince and Turner's The Thief will enjoy this quasi-medieval tale of magic and suspense. It moves quickly and has all the facets of a standard fantasy adventure. A sequel is in the works.
Weaknesses: Allie was not a very pleasant character, the world building fell flat for me, and there were a lot of improbable moments.
What I really think: My library already has a TON of this type of fantasy (and few readers for it), so this type of book has to really have an unusual hook for me to buy it. The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart had a similar premise, but intrigued me more.
Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

#WNDB Wednesday- Superstar

22670994Davis, Mandy. Superstar
June 20th 2017 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Lester's father was an astronaut who was killed during a mission, so he has been raised and home schooled by his mother. When his mother gets a job at the local public library, Lester is thrilled because he loves to spend time there, but she tells him that instead, he will have to go to school. Lester has a lot of trouble with this-- he gets hungry and is not allowed a snack, he can't study what he wants when he wants to, noises overwhelm him, and the other children, picking up on his odd behavior, are mean to him. There is one girl, Abby Chin, who is friendly to him and tries to help him navigate the difficult waters of fifth grade. Abby had won the science fair the year before, and Lester is very excited about the fair, especially when his mother finally gives him permission to do a flight themed project instead of one on plants. When a new girl arrives and Abby starts to hang out with her, Lester's behavior becomes more erratic. Luckily, the school tests him and finally delivers a diagnosis so that Lester can get the help and support that he needs.
Strengths: This had a very authentic voice, and Lester's behaviors are ones that I see all of the time at school from our children in the autism spectrum unit. The story moved along nicely, and the characters were all realistic and engaging. I particularly liked how the classroom teacher wasn't thrilled to have Lester, but made sure that he got the attention he needed. Actually, the reactions of the staff were all spot on. They were surprised at first, but once they realized what was going on with Lester, started the process of getting him help.
Weaknesses: It seemed unlikely that Lester's mother would not have figured out that he was on the autism spectrum before he started school. Fifteen years ago, I could see this being the case, but today children are usually diagnosed at much younger ages.
What I really think: This will be good to use with Baskin's Anything but Typical and other titles with characters who are on the autism spectrum.

32319718Bishop, Jenn. 14 Hollow Road
June 13th 2017 by Alfred A. Knopf
Public library copy

Maddie wants the sixth grade formal to be the beginning of the new-and-improved Maddie, but instead her crush, Avery, asks another girl to dance. Even worse, after the lights go out in the gym, the students find out that a tornado has hit their Massachusetts community. Both Maddie and Avery's houses are uninhabitable, and Maddie's dog, Hank, is missing. Luckily, very kind neighbors let Maddie's family stay with them, but Avery's family is there, too. It's awkward to be living so close to her crush, but Maddie gets to know Avery a little better. Even though her family is working hard to restore their former life, there's still middle school drama to be had. Maddie does realize she is lucky, especially when Avery's family may have to move to another town because their insurance didn't cover tornadoes. The summer before seventh grade ends up being transformative for Maddie, but not in the way that she would have imagined!
Strengths: This had a great middle grade voice and will be perfect for my young readers who want friend drama, family drama, and a little bit of romance. This is the kind of trauma my readers want-- something bad but not too bad. Something they could imagine happening to them so that they can be glad it DIDN'T happen to them. Tornadoes do wipe places out-- here in Ohio, we have the memory of Xenia in 1974, the May 1985 tornado that struck from Newton Falls, Ohio to Sharon, PA, and several towns in Iowa. This was quick, well paced, just loved it.
Weaknesses: A little too much friend drama for me; not enough for my 6th graders, probably!
What I really think: This was so much more appealing than The Distance To Home. I hope Bishop continues to write slightly more upbeat books like this one! Maybe if there is an author event in Cincinnati, I can visit with her! Ooh. And Andrew Speno. Have to keep my eyes open!

  Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Diary of an 8-Bit Warrior

So, here's the thing about being old. The first video game I ever played was Pong, which didn't interest me at all, although the TRS-80 my dad got for Christmas in about 1978 was kind of cool. I had to work the day that MTV first aired. I can code HTML, and gave up my home phone years ago, although I still have a slide out keyboard on my dumb phone because I can't afford a data plan. I can find, download and use apps on an iPad, sound mix with Audacity, and can also take apart a VCR, fix it, and put it back together.

I'm not a complete Luddite, but I will admit that digital solitaire is vastly superior to using cards. But I will never, never understand the allure of video games.

That said, I imagine that these books will be HUGELY popular in my library, if Minecraft is still popular in the fall.

28813486Cube Kid. From Seeds to Swords. (Diary of an 8-Bit Warrior #2)
May 30th 2017 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Copy Provided by the Publisher

Like the first book in this series, this is best read if one is familiar with the game Minecraft. I am not, so it was a bit difficult for me to follow. We follow the exploits of Runt, which include a lot of information about making a potion for an enderman so that he can go into the water and be a professional swimmer. Many of the children do this in order to earn emeralds. There are issues with school and friends there, zombies, mobs, and a lot of fighting and explosions.

On the bright side, this series is now available in paper-over-board hardcover, and book one and two have an Accelerated Reader test.

30648712Cube Kid. Crafting Alliances (Diary of an 8-Bit Warrior #3)
May 30th 2017 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Copy Provided by the Publisher

Runt is joined by Breeze and Emerald as groups form at school and give him a hard time, and there are lots of attacks by creepers. There are buildings to be designed and built, sword fighting to be done, and lots of school and chores. Runt does fairly well on his report card.

Readers who play Minecraft will love this, especially since the books are well illustrated and have a lot of color and motion on every page. They are rather reminiscent of Geronimo Stilton in the use of a variety of font styles.

Cube Kid. Path of the Diamond (Diary of an 8-Bit Warrior #4)
May 30th 2017 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Copy Provided by the Publisher

Runt is supposed to be finishing up his training, but there is a threat to the village. Nothing new, since it is frequently besieged by zombies and all sorts of creatures, but this threat is an unexpected one. Can Runt keep his mind on his work, especially since his nemesis Max is back and steals his diary?

These books were originally published as Diary of a Wimpy Villager, which explains the Notebook Novel format. There are eight books in that series, so I don't know if those will be available in hard cover as well.

Disclaimer: This is book is not official. It is not endorsed, authorized, sponsored, licensed or supported by Mojang AB, Microsoft Corp. or any other entity owning or controlling rights to the Minecraft name, trademarks or copyrights. (less) Ms. Yingling

Joplin, Wishing; Sputnik's Guide to Life on Earth

32075665Stanley, Diane. Joplin, Wishing
June 13th 2017 by HarperCollins
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Joplin never knew her grandfather, the much celebrated author Martin Camrath, but when he passes away, there is a media frenzy around her New York apartment, which she and her mother share with her mother's best friend Jen. The death is hard for Joplin, but only because she must deal with her mother's sadness. She was allowed to take one keepsake, and grabbed a Christmas tin with a broken platter in it. She and Jen go to have it restored. The first person to whom they talk creeps them both out, but the platter is put back together by someone else, and Joplin hangs it in her bedroom. After the rumors that her grandfather had problems start to bother her at school, Joplin wishes that she had a friend... and the girl on the platter comes to life! Since the girl can't live in the garden, Joplin convinces her upstairs neighbor Chloe to pass Sofie off as her visiting cousin while she figures out what to do. Joplin also meets Barrett Browning, a boy who shares many of her interests, and the two work to figure out the connection between her grandfather, Sofie, and the mysterious man who is following them around.

My favorite part of this book was the fact that Joplin DID tell people about Sofie... and they reluctantly believed her! Granted, the best part of magical books is often keeping the secret from the adults who are around, but I appreciated the fact that Joplin's mother was sympathetic to her plight and was willing to help her out even though the circumstances were very odd indeed!

Joplin starts off as a rather underdeveloped character, so it is interesting to see her grow and start to stand up for herself. Her relationship with Barrett is charming, and Chloe is an intriguing secondary character. Sofie's past is filled with all sorts of people, including the creepy Lucius Doyle. I especially appreciated the fact that Stanley brings a 21st century sensibility to Joplin's dealings with this man-- she tries to make sure that Joplin doesn't go meeting the suspect character on her own!

While I wish we had more information about Sofie's world, the New York setting is very vivid, and the author's notes about her own childhood in a similar place imbue this with a charming nostalgic feeling that will resonate with readers.

Stanley has done more high fantasy novels in the past, but this is a book filled with magical realism and mystery that will resonate with fans of Ruth Chew, Liz Kessler, Laurel Snyder, Kimberly Griffiths Little and Kathryn Littlewood.

32320210Boyce, Frank Cottrell. Sputnik's Guide to Life on Earth
June 20th 2017 by Walden Pond Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Prez is being raised by his grandfather, a former sailor, but when his grandfather's dementia worsens, he is sent to Children's Temporary and then out to a family on a farm for a summer placement. Once there, an odd boy shows up at the door and declares that his name is Sputnik and he's there because the Earth is in danger and he's going to save Prez. However, everyone else sees Sputnik as a dog. The two get involved in a number of adventures, including going back to Prez's apartment, trying to jailbreak the grandfather but getting the wrong "prison", and eventually visiting Prez's grandfather at the Shangri-La retirement home. Sputnik is problematic as a dog, and Prez's foster family debates sending him away, but even after Prez is returned to Children's Temporary, the two have a solid bond and Sputnik helps Prez through his difficult times.
Strengths: This was an interesting way to deal with the difficult topic of a grandparent dealing with dementia and a boy having to go into foster care because of it. I liked that the foster family was very supportive, and the details about farm work and family life were very nice.
Weaknesses: This had a very strong, British feel to it, with a large dose of Roald Dahl or David Walliams' type humor/difficulties.
What I really think: As much as I enjoyed this, I will probably pass on purchasing, since Boyce's work just is not picked up frequently by my readers.

  Ms. Yingling

Monday, June 19, 2017

MMGM- I Love You, Michael Collins

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and  #IMWAYR day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday. 

31145091Baratz-Logstead, Lauren. I Love You, Michael Collins
June 20th 2017 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)

E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Mamie enjoys spending the summer of 1969 hanging out with her best friend and next door neighbor, Buster. They play with her cat, Campbell, watch television when they can, read in the cool basement, or more often, run around outside until dinner time. Mamie is enthralled with the upcoming NASA project, and has decided that she likes astronaut Michael Collins more than Neil Armstrong or Buzz Aldrin, and continues her class project of writing a letter to an astronaut even though it's summer vacation. She finds it a good way of dealing with the stresses in her life. Her father thinks the NASA mission is a waste of money, but her mother wants to have a Launch Party. When her father says that she can't, it's the last straw, and her mother packs a bag and goes to stay with his sister. After a couple of days of awkwardly tending to Mamie, her father also goes off to try to reconcile with her mother. Mamie is left in the care of her older sister Bess, who is either sleeping or hanging out with her boyfriend Vinny, and even older sister Eleanor, who has her own apartment and works as a secretary. Mamie isn't too worried about being on her own, and doesn't want Buster to tell his mother. Instead, the two research Apollo 11, and Mamie plans her own party. As exciting as the moon walk is, it also is an event that shows how much life is changing in Mamie's world, and all around her.
Strengths: The details of everyday life in 1969 are absolutely perfect. THIS is what we need in historical novels. The constant battle over Froot Loops (How are they better than Cap'n Crunch?), the insistence that children need to be outside all day, the phone numbers written on the side of the phone, the details of watching the NASA coverage (Buster's father works downtown, so will go to the appliance store to watch!), and the idea that a 16 year old who sleeps all day is perfectly fine for watching a ten year old while her parents are two states away-- wow. Tang. Erector sets. Hoop earrings. One fan in the house that moves from room to room. This book used more details to good effect than any I have read recently. On top of that, the story was pitch perfect as well. Mamie's mother is tired of being at home, tired of having to ask permission, and her father was just confused about this. It had always been that way! Why isn't it working now? Told through Mamie's eyes, and including lots of details about the moon launch and talk, this is a fantastic slice of red and blue frosted life at a particular moment in time.
Weaknesses: I'm not a fan of epistolographic novels involving famous people (Dear Hank Williams, and it just seems like there are others), but this had such great details about daily life that it won me over. Also, the pitcher for the Tang on the front cover is not quite right. There were about 400 million promotional Tang pitchers, and I'm betting Buster would have had one!
What I really think: ADORED this. Buying two copies because it is so perfect for the 1960s  unit one of my teachers does.

Bugs! (Animal Planet Chapter Books #4)Buckley, James. Bugs! (Animal Planet Chapter Books #3)
June 13th 2017 by Animal Planet
Copy received from Blue Slip Media

Bugs covers an impressive range of information about insects. Not only does it describe what constitutes an insect, but the book proceeds to lay out the life cycle, diet, methods of movement, and other facts about insects in general, and also includes chapters on particular types, such as beetles, mosquitoes, and butterflies. Well illustrated, with easy to read text, the 112 page length of these will not be daunting even to emerging readers, since the books are pocket sized and the information is presented in manageable chapters. This would be a fantastic accompaniment to the Scholastic series Jack Patton's Battle Bugs and a good introduction to insects for readers who are not quite old enough to appreciate the humor in Sneed Collard III's Insects: The Most Fun Bug Book Ever. Package this with a bug collection net and container (like the set at the left, picture taken from, and you've got the perfect gift for just about any eight year old on the planet.

Earlier books in this series include Sharks #1 and Dinosaurs #2, and there is even a fiction series, Animal Planet Adventures, that looks intriguing. Who doesn't want to reading a book entitled Puppy Rescue Riddle? (September 2017).

Animal Planet Chapter Book: Snakes!Buckley, James. Snakes! (Animal Planet Chapter Books #4)
June 13th 2017 by Animal Planet
Copy received from Blue Slip Media

I definitely learned several things about snakes from reading this book. For example, different varieties of snakes move in different fashions, which makes sense when you think about snakes in the desert who have to travel over shifting sand! I also did not know that snakes had heat sensing receptors on their bodies called pits. Like the previous book in the series, Bugs, Snakes has a variety of chapters that cover different subdivisions of snakes as well as what snakes eat, how they protect themselves, and (the most useful chapter) Superdeadly snakes. Let's just say I am now afraid of both the cottonmouth and Black Mamba snakes!

Very clear photographs showing the differences in types of snakes makes this book a particularly useful one. At the back there is a list of zoos that have snakes, as well as a few further books to investigate and some organization web sites to check out.

Ms. Yingling

Sunday, June 18, 2017


Ten: A Soccer Story by [Flint, Shamini]Flint, Shamini. Ten.
June 20th 2017 by Clarion Books (first published 2009)
ARC from publisher at ALA

Growing up in Malaysia in the 1980s, Maya desperately wants to play soccer, but it's not something that girls do. She must content herself with watching teams on television and fantasizing about meeting the great Zico. She and her brother, Rajiv, are worried because their parents fight a lot. Life in their household is very stressful; their father, who is English, has trouble keeping a business afloat. Their grandmother is very critical of her daughter, their mother, who does her best to keep things together. Maya is also one of the few children of Indian origin in her school. She manages to get a team together and enjoys playing with her friends, but when her parents decide to get divorced, and her father moves back to England, she feels like a grand gesture might make her family whole again.
Strengths: I love books set in other countries that talk about what daily life is like. Maya is an interesting character; since I don't watch sports, it was a little hard for me to understand how she could think she could be a soccer star when she didn't even play, but I loved how she was able to get a start on her dreams by working really hard at being allowed to play soccer, getting the equipment, rallying players, etc. Hopefully, it will make players in the US who read this feel grateful for the opportunities they have!
Weaknesses: I understand that this is set in the 1980s because it is largely autobiographical, but I wish it had been contemporary.
What I really think: Will definitely purchase this for the soccer content, as well as the great depiction of life in another country.

I used to love to read YA and MG romance books, but since I have become more and more like a 12-year-old boy in my reading habits, I find that unless they are like Heldring's The Footbal Girl, I don't have much interest in them. YA romance especially has so much drama, and I'm done with drama. Who cares? Move on. Go to college. Get a life. Save the world. Think about something other than boys.

So, I'm not the best person to opine about these two, but here we go.

Smith, Jennifer E. Windfall.
Published May 2nd 2017 by Delacorte Press
Public Library Copy

Will buy this one, since 8th grade girls still have souls that have not been shrunk in the dryer.

"Alice doesn't believe in luck--at least, not the good kind. But she does believe in love, and for some time now, she's been pining for her best friend, Teddy. On his eighteenth birthday--just when it seems they might be on the brink of something--she buys him a lottery ticket on a lark. To their astonishment, he wins $140 million, and in an instant, everything changes. At first, it seems like a dream come true, especially since the two of them are no strangers to misfortune... But now, as they negotiate the ripple effects of Teddy's newfound wealth, a gulf opens between them. And soon, the money starts to feel like more of a curse than a windfall."--Provided by publisher.

Dessen, Sarah. Once and For All
June 6th 2017 by Viking Books for Young Readers
Public Library Copy

I usually love Dessen's work, but this had the f-word early on, teen drinking, and a deceased former boyfriend. Add to that the wedding planning theme (which doesn't do well with my students), and I think I'll pass on this one. Pleasant enough, although I also had trouble envisioning a girl younger than my daughter having hippie vegan parents. Most people about my age were just trying to keep employment in 1999; alternative lifestyles were not really a big thing.

" Is it really better to have loved and lost? Louna's summer job is to help brides plan their perfect day, even though she stopped believing in happily-ever-after when her first love ended tragically. But charming girl-magnet Ambrose isn't about to be discouraged now that he's met the one he really wants. Maybe Louna's second chance is standing right in front of her." --Provided by publisher

  Ms. Yingling

Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Great Granny Cake Contest, Guys Read #7

32284110Corderoy, Tracey and Berger, Joe. Hubble Bubble: The Great Granny Cake Contest
June 13th 2017 by Nosy Crow
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Pandora's grandmother is a witch, and Pandora has powers that her parents do not want her to use. Of course, when she is in her grandmother's company, she still gets to ride on a broom, and the magic powers can be useful. This is especially true when her grandmother enters a cake baking contest with two of her witch friends. Her grandmother isn't going to cheat and use magic, but when Pandora finds out that her friends' grandchildren are helping, she decides to help as well. Pandora and her grandmother also get in trouble during the tour of a local mansion, and at the school gardening fair.
Strengths: The illustrations, and the way the text is set around them, are really brilliantly done. The story presupposes complete suspension of disbelief, and we are instantly sucked into Pandora's world. This is very reminiscent of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle.
Weaknesses: This is most suited for early readers, not for middle school. Drat.
What I really think: I am so tempted to buy this one for my 6th graders who love Ruth Chew. It's completely adorable, VERY British (fairy cakes), and reminded me of things I read when I was in elementary school. Maybe if there is an Accelerated Reader test for it!

30653886Scieszka, Jon et al. Heroes and Villains
April 4th 2017 by Walden Pond Press
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

This seventh collection of short stories by different authors, edited by Guys Read founder and generally fabulous Guy, Jon Scieszka, offers a wide range of interpretations of both heroes and villains. While some are goofy and full of fantasy elements (Healy's The Villain's Guide to Being a Hero covers more information about villain Deeb Rauber; Anderson's General Poophead offers an odd look at Benedict Arnold conversing with a Valkyrie, and Law's The Warrior and the Knave involves the hero getting sucked into an alternative dimension where he must save the day through a black-hole vacuum-vortext thingy inside a locker), the stand out stories cover more real life incidents.

Munoz Ryan's First Crossing depicts a young boy and his father trying to make the journey from Mexico to the US using a coyote; Yelchin's Kalash shows the interaction between a young Russian boy and his brother who has just gotten out of the army, and Hopkinson's How I Became Stink Daley offers the fascinating account of an impoverished boy with a love of drawing who must take a job at a dairy and ends up exposing unhygienic practices there.

There is a graphic short story as well, Camper's The Wager with illustrations by Raul the Third, that shows two boys' struggles with the Bogeyman and el Cucuy during the night. The rest of the book is rounded out by continuations of similar stories authors must enjoy. Lemony Snicket discusses finding a royal baby and being accused of kidnapping him, Creech's Need That Dog covers another story of a boy who wants to have a dog, and Gantos' How My Mother Was Arrested for Murder revisits the Florida setting of The Trouble in Me.

These collections are a great way to introduce readers to a lot of authors they may not know, and encourage them to pick up other books if they like a particular author or story. Most of the stories do showcase the authors' particular styles and frequent themes, although sometimes authors use this opportunity to depart a bit from their norm.

The Jeff Stokely illustrations reminded me of Leonard Shortall's illustrations for Sobol's orignal Encyclopedia Brown (1963) books.

Alvin Schwartz's Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and San Souci's Dare to Be Scared books are great for scary short stories, but it's hard to find collections of short stories on other topics, so the Guys Read franchise is an excellent place to find quality examples of the genre.
Ms. Yingling

Friday, June 16, 2017

Soldier Boy: A Novel Based on a True Story of the Ugandan Civil War

31145113Hutton, Keely. Soldier Boy: A Novel Based on a True Story of the Ugandan Civil War
June 13th 2017 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

In 1998, Ricky is living with his family in Uganda. His father is a teacher, and his family believes strongly in education. His older brother, Patrick, is bigger and smarter, but Ricky looks up to him. When soldiers from the Lord's Resistance Army pass by their village, Ricky and his friends are out on the road to try to see what the commotion is. The LRA is brutal, and in one afternoon, Ricky's family is killed and he and Patrick are taken to become soldiers. All of the commanders are blood thirsty, and there is no place for weakness. Only the strong survive. Ricky and Patrick do what they need to do, although they both try not to kill anyone. In alternating chapters, we also see Samuel in 2006. He is recuperating from a bad leg wound at the Friends of Orphans compound, but is very wary of the people there. He, too, has been a child soldier, and is supposed to be sent home. He doesn't want to tell anyone his story, but a kind man plays checkers with him, and eventually gets him to open up. Ricky's story is bleaker, or we see more of it. After years of fighting, he manages to be abandoned by the LRA and goes back to his village, only to receive devastating news. Still, he realizes that in order to survive, he must get an education, and after making it out of Uganda, he manages to graduate from university and eventually returns to his home country to help other child soldiers by founding Friends of Orphans.
Strengths: Hutton takes on a difficult subject and brilliantly balances needed details with the delicacy needed for a middle grade audience. The descriptions of tortures, deaths and other atrocities are not glossed over, but neither are they sensationalized. I also liked how this started with every day life before things got bad, and the fact that the brothers tried hard to remember what that life was like when life in the LRA got bad. This is an important story, and one that children in the US should know about. Like Perkins' Bamboo People , Sullivan's The Bitter Side of Sweet or Park's A Long Walk to Water, this might make a good class novel so that students can be supported in their understanding of this difficult topic.
Weaknesses: This is a very brutal story, despite the author's best efforts. I would not recommend it to all of my students, and certainly this is more of an upper middle grade title.
What I really think: I will buy a copy and recommend it to students who can handle it.
Ms. Yingling

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Orphan Train Girl

34126019Kline, Christina Baker. Orphan Train Girl
May 2nd 2017 by HarperCollins
ARC from publisher at ALA

Molly is in foster care and runs into trouble when she steals The Secret Garden from the library. She has to perform 20 hours of community service, and her friend Jack's mother makes it possible for her to work with an elderly woman, Vivian, cleaning out her attic. There, she realizes that Vivian has a background similar to her own. In alternating stories, we hear the story of Vivian's life, going from Ireland, to a city apartment where a fire kills her parents, to a series of poor placements where she is neglected but eventually finds the care she needs. We also hear about Molly's struggles, and how the two form a bond.
Strengths: This was a well constructed story that moved along quickly. Both stories were realistic and believable, and I appreciated that while Vivian (Niamh/Dorothy) struggled in bad situations, they weren't too horrible. Molly's situation was understandable as well. The bond between the two was sweet.
Weaknesses: Perhaps because this is a young readers' edition, some of the writing felt stilted. I'm half tempted to pick up the original version.
What I really think: I may purchase. There are a lot of orphan train stories, but this one has the added interest of having a modern character in foster care, and that may encourage readers to pick this book up. The story was intriguing, even if the writing style was a bit odd.

Inexplicably, one of our high schools has the adult version of this book assigned for Honors English summer reading. Sigh.
Ms. Yingling

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

#WNDB Wednesday- Felix Yz

28525367Bunker, Lisa. Felix Yz
June 6th 2017 by Viking Books for Young Readers
ARC provided by publisher

Felix has some challenges in his life. When he was a toddler, his father was babysitting him in his lab when an experiment went terribly wrong. His father was killed, and Felix ended up fused with a fourth dimensional being named Zyx. Felix can hear Zyx in his brain, and Zyx can also type in order to communicate. Having Zyx inhabiting his body causes Felix to have verbal processing problems, as well as some mobility issues. These cause people at school to make fun of him, but Hector is very kind. Felix has a crush on Hector, but doesn't know if the feelings are returned. The lab where his father worked is very concerned about Felix remaining in contact with the alien, so a date has been decided upon to try to separate the two. Counting down to the procedure, Felix discusses his feelings about the separation, his fear of death, and all of the issues facing him, including Grandy, his gender fluid grandparent.
Strengths: This was certainly an interesting novel on a new topic, and I did like how it included characters who weren't mainstream, especially the grandparent and the use of alternate pronouns. This was similar in tone and style to See You in the Cosmos, Carl Sagan, and was definitely a fresh and innovative science fiction novel.
Weaknesses: It's great that the author wanted to include a trans character in a book where that was not the major issue, but there are so many characters with differences (gender fluid, gay, biracial, physically disabled) that it seems a bit unrealistic. Being fused with a fourth dimensional alien-- that, of course is realistic. It's a fine line, I know, but when there are too many characters with differences in a book, it often feels forced.
What I really think: Not sure I have the readers for this one. Most of my science fiction fans want something more exciting and adventurous.
Ms. Yingling

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Door in the Alley (The Explorers#1)

The Explorers Blog Tour!

25268434Kress, Adrienne. The Door in the Alley (The Explorers#1)
April 25th 2017 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers
E ARC from

Sebastian lives a well ordered existence with his staid, science loving family, and he is rather annoyed when his cousin Hubert takes him down an unexplored alleyway on their way home from school one day, making him five minutes late getting home. They see a sign in the alley for "The Explorers' Society", and this intrigues Sebastian, although he knows better than to act on just any stray impulse. When he intercepts a pig in a tiny hat and is ordered by a man in a rumpled suit to bring it into the Society, he is concerned, especially when the director tells him he is trespassing and must be punished! The punishment ends up being much to Sebastian's liking, and he cleans and set the Society to rights. It is the assignment to do something out of his comfort zone that perplexes him, until he uncovers a mysterious box and sneaks it home with him.

Evie is still mourning the death of her parents in a car accident, mainly because she is living in an orphanage and has to have boring dinners every week with the bland Andersons. She doesn't understand why until a mysterious man shows up one week and plunges everything into chaos. SHe manages to escape, and finds that her grandfather, Alistair Drake, is still alive.

Eventually, the two children meet up and try to locate the five members of the defunct and not-talked-about Filipendulous Society, since the most famous member of the group was Evie's gradnfather. This course of action is fraught with peril, and the children find themselves rappelling from clock towers, meeting up with boa constrictors, and being madly pursued by a man whose mouth is wired shut. Will Evie be able to locate her grandfather, and will Sebastian be able to come to grips with a wildly unorganized life? This ends in a cliffhanger, so perhaps we will find out in book two.

Perfect for more advanced, younger readers who enjoyed Beha's The Secrets of Eastcliff-by-the-Sea, Milford's The Greenglass House, or Primavera's  Ms. Rapscott's GirlsThe Door in the Alley is a quirky, action packed mystery filled with puzzles, snarky footnotes, and pigs in hats.

This is very different from Kress' Young Adult titles such as The Friday Society or Hatter Mattigan. I'm not entirely sure that middle school students will go for it, but elementary students should love it.

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32333254Rue, Ginger. Aleca Zamm is a Wonder
June 6th 2017 by Aladdin
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Aleca is not having a great tenth birthday, because she has to take a timed math test in class, and she's horrible at these tests. Her mother tries to reassure her, as does her friend, Molly, but when Mrs. Floberg steps out of the class and puts the snotty Madison in charge, Aleca ends up getting into trouble not only with the teacher, but with Mr. Vine, the principal. When Aleca has to tell him her name, something odd happens-- time seems to stop! Once she realizes that this is, in fact, what has happened, Aleca uses the opportunity to put glue in Madison's hair, a hamster in Mrs. Floberg's scarf and a bug in a boy's mouth! She also manages to get the answers to the test correct. The ability to stop time also comes in handy the next morning, when she gets to sleep in AND do her forgotten homework before school starts. Of course, this can't go on indefinitely, so when her Great Aunt Zephyr shows up, Aleca finds out that being a "Wonder" runs in families and skips a generation. Luckily, she has Aunt Zephyr to show her how to use her powers for good and not for evil.
Strengths: This was a fun, fast book with magical realism that will appeal to readers who have some imagination. It's silly, of course, but also a great idea. I really liked the backstory of Aunt Zephyr and her brothers discovering their powers. The sequel is very necessary, because this book is just the start of the adventures.
Weaknesses: Aleca Zamm-- the name is rather twee. Would I have cared? Probably not. I never had a problem with Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle!
What I really think: I would have loved this when I was ten. It reminds me a little of Ruth Chew, whose work is still very popular with my 6th graders.

The second book in the series was also released on June 6th. Great choice for summer reading, especially if you know a girl who is turning 10!

(Thanks, Dad, for those great pictures from MY tenth birthday!)