Monday, June 18, 2018

Middle Grade Monday: Scar Island by Dan Gemeinhart

Scar Island by Dan Gemeinhart. Unabridged audiobook on one MP3 CD. 6 hours and 42 minutes. Read by MacLeod Andrews. Scholastic on Brilliance Audio, 2017. 9781536681796. (Own)

Twelve-year-old Jonathan Grimsby sits handcuffed in a boat speeding across the choppy sea on a chilly evening. He's seasick and scared and the pilot of the boat isn't helping things by taunting him about the evil place he's about to enter. Slabhenge is a stone reformatory that sits on a rock of an island off an un-named coast. It used to house an insane asylum; but Jonathan doesn't care. When Jonathan is ushered into the headmaster's office. He's made to kneel on a device called a Sinner's Sorrow, which, after a few minutes, causes the kneeler to suffer excruciating pain. But Jonathan doesn't care. The next morning, all the boys are trooped up to the roof to stand balancing in the pouring rain. Again, Jonathan doesn't care. He feels he deserves everything he's getting. 

What terrible thing did Jonathan do to land in Slabhenge? The reader does not find out till the very end of this Holes meets Lord of the Flies thriller. Often over-the top but nearly constantly suspenseful, readers are quickly drawn in and ignore the plot holes. Well, young readers do. They drove me a bit berserk. That said, I booktalk Scar Island like crazy for my tweens who like gothic suspense and plot-driven books. 

One of my favorite narrators performed this one. He many voices and brilliant pacing kept me involved though I figured out Jonathan's crime well before the reveal. 

Friday, June 15, 2018

Fact Friday: Double feature audio review: Girling Up and Boying Up by Maiyam Bialik

Fact Friday presents a double feature:

Girling Up: how to be smart, strong and spectacular by Mayim Bialik, PhD. Unabridged audiobook on three compact discs. 3 hours, 44 minutes. Read by the author. Listening Library, 9781524780388. (Review from audiobook borrowed from public library.)

Boying Up: How to be Brave, Bold and Brilliant by Mayim Bialik, PhD. Unabridged e-audiobook. Read by the author. Listening Library, 2018. 978052551982. (Review of e-audio borrowed from public library.)

There is not a lot of difference in content between these two chatty, informative audiobooks. Bialik provides information on the opposite sex in each. I felt like I was listening to the same book. That's fine. The experience was pleasant, positive and earnest, sort of like listening to your friend's cool mom. Listening without the book deprives the reader of the line drawings, but it did add that human, "mom" dimension. The science of puberty is presented in easily understandable, straightforward language with lots of reassurances that most everyone's experience is "perfectly normal." There is a lot of talk of acceptance with a discussion about gender roles and ideals of masculinity and femininity, which leads into talk about gender fluidity. There is little to no conversation about same sex attraction in Boying Up and none that I can remember in Girling Up.

Boying Up had snippets of unattributed "He Said" additions to compensate for the fact that the author isn't a total expert on the male experience. Neither volume breaks new ground with the content, but the author's name recognition and encouraging tone should make this easy for tween and teen readers to relate to.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

#tbt: Savvy by Ingrid Law

Savvy by Ingrid Law. 342 p. Dial Books for Young Readers/ Penguin Young Reader's Group, May, 2008. 9780803733060. (Own)

#tbt celebrates the tenth anniversary of Savvy by Ingrid Law. Law made her debut with Savvy in May of 2008 and received a Newbery honor for it in January of 2009. It is the first-person narration of Mississippi Beaumont, or Mibs and she's about to turn thirteen. That's when all the members of the Beaumont family come into their savvy, or gift. No one knows what it will be and how it might upend their lives. The family had to move inland when Mibs' older brother, Fish turned thirteen. His savvy is a hurricane.

Just before her big day, Poppa's sent to the hospital after a terrible accident and Mibs now wants a savvy that will save him. 

This fast-paced work of magical realism will engage readers with its endearing narrator, short, cliffhanger chapters and  tall-tale quality. Here's a picture of the tenth anniversary paperback:

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Waiting on Wednesday: Crush by Svetlana Chmakova

Crush by Svetlana Chmakova. Berrybrook Middle School Series #3. 224 p. Yen Press, October 30, 2018. 9780316363242.

I am so happy that this charming series is continuing. My students love Awkward and Brave.

Publisher synopsis: Jorge seems to have it all together. He's big enough that nobody really messes with him, but he's also a genuinely sweet guy with a solid, reliable group of friends. The only time he ever feels off his game is when he crosses paths with a certain girl... But when the group dynamic among the boys starts to shift, will Jorge be able to balance what his friends expect of him versus what he actually wants? 

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Teen Tuesday: Pop by Gordon Korman

Pop by Gordon Korman. 263 p. HarperColling Publishers, August, 2009. 9780061742286. (Own)

Marcus Jordan is a quarterback. He has moved to a new town and hopes to join the football team as a quarterback. He spends some time at the park hoping to meet some football players. Instead, he meets Charlie. Charlie is middle-aged and a bit of an oddball but boy, does he know football and the two strike up a friendship. Once school starts, Marcus finds that he isn't being welcomed with open arms, especially by the reigning QB, who happens to be Charlie's son. This fast-paced novel has great football action, humor and some sadness. It happens to be one of my favorite Korman titles. 

Monday, June 11, 2018

Middle Grade Monday and arc review: Soof by Sarah Weeks

Soof by Sarah Weeks. 208 p. Scholastic Press/ Scholastic Inc., October 9, 2018. 9780545846691.

When I heard about Soof back in the fall, my first thought was, "Ooh! I hope my SLJ editor assigns it to me!" I had the pleasure of reviewing Pie for the journal in 2011. Back in 2005, before I started blogging or reviewing, I adored So B. It. But really, I enjoy everything that Sarah Weeks writes. Then I remembered the 250 word maximum for reviews and the fact that I need to write more formally and objectively. I realized that I would be fine not reviewing Soof for SLJ. I thought that if I could get my hands on an arc, I could gush and meander to my heart's content here on the blog. Thanks to Mary and Trish at Books, Bytes and Beyond, who loaned me their arc.

Anyone who has read So B. It knows that "soof" (spoiler alert) is Heidi It's mother's word for love. They also understand the importance of the jar of jellybeans on the cover of Soof. But Soof can very definitely stand alone.

I will synopsize very loosely and vaguely. Ruby and Sheriff Roy finally had a daughter whom they named Aurora, or Rory. She's in fifth grade now. Soof is her first-person narration. She has no friends, except for her dog, Duck and acknowledges that she is weird. She has grown up hearing Heidi stories and how Heidi brought her parents luck. Blah, blah, blah. Aurora doesn't feel at all lucky and now that Heidi is married, about to have a baby of her own and coming to visit, Aurora is less than pleased. She might even be feeling a bit threatened.

I will admit that when I heard the premise, I wondered how Weeks would pull it off. Heidi would be around twenty-four, a bit young for someone to be married and having a baby in my neighborhood. I became curious about her story. What happened in the intervening years? But this is Aurora's story and it's just perfect. I fell in love with Aurora immediately. Her voice is instantly engaging. She's keenly observant, unapologetically frank and often hilarious. I warn you though; there will be tears. And goosebumps at the end. I ached for her. I also ached for Ruby, who loves her daughter fiercely and wants to do right by her.

Weeks has a knack for getting at emotional truths with an economy of words. Most of her books are under 200 pages but her characters and settings are vivid and memorable. Like Aurora, she's an astute observer who also has an ear for authentic tween dialogue. (She's not as prickly as Aurora though.) She visited our school back in September and the students were so attentive because she was incredibly interesting and connected to them. During her presentation, she shared a photo she took that inspired a scene in Soof. When I got to that scene in the book, I was floored. Again, I'm being deliberately vague here in order for you to approach this with as few preconceptions as possible. It's the tiny details that etch scenes into your heart. 

Soof is a first-purchase. A perfect book for any reader; but fans of So B. It will devour it whole and turn back to page one to begin again, as I did. I can also open the book at any page and fall in love again. Give it to fans of gentler books or books featuring endearingly oddball narrators. Look for it early October. 

Saturday, June 9, 2018

What's New? Stacking the Shelves

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews. Hop on over there to ogle what other bloggers got this week.

For review: 

Here to Stay by Sara Farizan. 263 p. Algonquin/ Workman Publishing, September 18, 2018. 978161207007. 

Publisher synopsis: For most of high school, Bijan Maid has flown under the radar. He gets good grades, reads comics, hangs out with his best friend, Sean, and secretly crushes on Elle, one of the most popular girls in his school. When he's called off the basketball team's varsity bench and makes the winning basket in a playoff game, everything changes in an instant.

But not everyone is happy that Bijan is the man of the hour: an anonymous cyberbully sends the entire school a picture of Bijan photoshopped to look like a terrorist. His mother is horrified, and the school administration is outraged. They promise to find and punish the culprit. All Bijan wants is to pretend it never happened and move on, but the incident isn't so easily erased. Though many of his classmates rally behind Bijan, some don't want him or his type to be a part of their school And Bijan's finding out it's not always easy to tell your enemies from your friends.
 Purchased: Whoa! Nothing, though I do have a few audios I've been meaning to purchase.

That's what's new with me. What's new with you? Leave a comment with a link to your stack and I'll stop by.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Fact Friday: First Flight around the World by Tim Grove

First Flight around the World: the adventures of the American fliers who won the race by Tim Grove. 88 p. Abrams, April, 2015. 9781419714825. 

File under the many other facts I never knew: In 1924, in an effort to be the first to circumnavigate the globe in an airplane, the U.S. Army sent eight young men out in teams of two in four biplanes to do so. Not to be outdone, Great Britain, France, Portugal, Italy and Argentina sent teams as well. This book documents the race with all the perils faced by brave young men in the infancy of aviation. 

We in the twenty-first century complain when our air travel is delayed for a few hours. We sit in pressurized cabins and are served meals. While air travel is admittedly growing more insulting by the day, we have it easy compared to 1924. Pilots today navigate with computers and other instrumentation, not by sight and manual calculations in cockpits that are open to the elements. Pilots in this race dealt with extremes of temperature from the heat and sunburned legs to freezing temperatures. Their fur-lined clothing did not keep out the cold and when it rained it felt "like lead shot being thrown into our faces and against our hands." (p.24) They traveled with a mechanic and extra engine parts. 

The design of this well-told tale is colorful, appealing and busy. There are plenty of archival photos, maps and text boxes to pore over. Backmatter includes information about the fate of the other countries' teams; a glossary; pilots' itinerary; endnotes; bibliography and photo and art credits. 

Hand this oversize beauty to your history or aviation buffs. It's a great addition to any middle/ high school collection. By the way, it was a YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist. I can always count on children's informational literature to add to my knowledge. 

Thursday, June 7, 2018

#tbt: Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis


Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis. 245 p. Delacorte Press/ Random House Children's Books, January, 1999. 0385323069. 

Bud, Not Buddy is Christopher Paul Curtis' second book. You may recall that his first, The Watson's Go to Birmingham, 1963, won a Newbery Honor. Bud, Not Buddy was published in 1999 and won both the Newbery Medal and the Coretta Scott King Author Award in January, 2000. Not bad for a new author! Bud, Not Buddy is the first-person story of ten-year-old orphan, Buddy Caldwell. It is 1936, the height of the Great Depression and Buddy has had it with foster homes. He hits the road with his suitcase containing the few items his mother left him, hoping they are clues to who his father is. At turns hilarious and heartbreaking, Bud, Not Buddy is a satisfying read.

Here's the cover of the paperback edition:

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Waiting on Wednesday: Swing by Kwame Alexander and Mary Rand Hess

Swing by Kwame Alexander and Mary Rand Hess. 432 p. Blink, October 2, 2018. 9781310761914.

I learned about this on an SLJ exclusive cover reveal last week. I love these podcasts.

Publisher synopsis: Things usually do not go as planned for seventeen-year-old Noah. He and his best friend Walt (aka Swing) have been cut from the high school baseball team for the third year in a row, and it looks like Noah’s love interest since fifth grade, Sam, will never take it past the “best friend” zone. Noah would love to retire his bat and accept the status quo, but Walt has got big plans for them both, which include making the best baseball comeback ever, getting the girl, and finally finding cool.

To go from lovelorn to ladies’ men, Walt introduces Noah to a relationship guru—his Dairy Queen-employed cousin, Floyd—and the always informative Woohoo Woman Podcast. Noah is reluctant, but decides fate may be intervening when he discovers more than just his mom’s birthday gift at the Thrift Shop. Inside the vintage Keepall is a gold mine of love letters from the 1950s. Walt is sure these letters and the podcasts are just what Noah needs to communicate his true feelings to Sam. To Noah, the letters are more: an initiation to the curious rhythms of love and jazz, as well as a way for him and Walt to embrace their own kind of cool. While Walt is hitting balls out of the park and catching the eye of the baseball coach, Noah composes anonymous love letters to Sam in an attempt to write his way into her heart. But as things are looking up, way up, for Noah and Walt, the letters set off a chain of events that change everything Noah knows to be true about love, friendship, sacrifice, and fate. 

In Swing, bestselling authors Kwame Alexander and Mary Rand Hess (Solo) present a free-verse poetic story that will speak to anyone who’s struggled to find their voice, and take a swing at life.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Teen Tuesday and Audiobook Review: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert. Unabridged digital recording. 10 hours. Read by Rebecca Soler. Macmillan Young Listeners, 2018. 9781427293541. (Review from audiobook borrowed from ebccls.)

This went on the announcements this morning: Teen Tuesday features The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert. This 2018 urban fairy tale is the author's debut and also on the summer reading list for rising freshmen (!)*, so heads up eighth graders. 

Seventeen-year-old Alice Proserpine has spent all of her life on the run from bad luck with her mother, Ella. Ella has recently married and the two live in luxury in Manhattan. Alice isn't terribly happy about this and is obsessed with a book of fairy tales that her estranged grandmother wrote - a book her mother has forbidden her to read. This is a creepy read with hints of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and a variety of fairy tale motifs.

Review: The Hazel Wood got a couple of starred reviews and a number of impressive blurbs. I read it because it was on the GR Newbery discussion group. I think it mostly lives up to the hype. Although Newbery criteria goes up to age fourteen, I think this is a bit YA for Newbery and hope that the Printz committee is taking a look. The Odyssey committee should take a look at the audiobook, which was how I read it. Rebecca Soler is one of my favorite narrators and she did a superb job. She has a nice range of distinct voices. 

I will admit to feeling at times there were parts that were overwritten. That said, there were also times when I wished I were reading with my eyes to go back to reread and savor the writing. I enjoyed the grittiness of the Hinterlands and the depiction of life in New York City. Some commenters have complained that Alice is a difficult character to like but I found her compelling. This is definitely not Disney sanitized fairy tales, so caution your readers. Readers who like their fantasy/ fairy tale world dark and twisty will love The Hazel Wood. It's a worthy addition to any YA collection.

(!)*I am rather thrilled that such a contemporary novel appears on the summer reading list. When my sons attended this high school, the summer reading lists were mostly dusty and dull. 

Monday, June 4, 2018

Middle Grade Monday and Arc Review: Game Changer by Tommy Greenwald

Game Changer by Tommy Greenwald. 292 p. Amulet Books/ Abrams, September 11, 2018. 9781419731433. (Review from arc courtesy of publisher.)

Thirteen-year-old Teddy lives for football. Now he may be dying for it. He collapsed as he left the field after a brutally hot day at pre-season football conditioning camp with the high school team. Doctors frantically try to stabilize Teddy. Divorced parents are freaking out and unsuccessfully avoiding the blame game. Authorities try to piece together the events. All this happens as he lies in a coma in the ICU. This multiple viewpoint novel is told in dialogue, text messages, a website message board, transcripts of interviews and Teddy's own inner monologue. 

This is a quick and compelling read regardless of where you might stand as a fan or non-fan of football. Greenwald does a spectacular job of creating confusion and anxiety with the rapid shifts in POV as well as the shifting formats. It all works well to keep the reader unbalanced and scrambling to make sense. The fractured "sentences" and almost stream-of-consciousness "dialogue" of parents, relatives and friends felt very realistic. It isn't easy talking to someone who's in a coma, especially when you're reeling from the fact that a loved one is grievously injured. 

My only quibble (as an adult with a nursing background) is with the medical team who let this circus unfold at Teddy's bedside in the ICU. This is dramatic license; there wouldn't be much of a book without it and your readers won't notice this at all. I think my students will be all over this one. Hand this to almost any reader, not just football fans or "reluctant" readers. Between the fabulous cover and the unique format, Game Changer should have broad appeal and is a fabulous addition to any library.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

What's New? Stacking the Shelves

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews. Hop on over there to ogle what other bloggers got this week.

For review: Well, sort of. I went to SLJ Day of Dialog on Wednesday and got these:

Purchased: When I returned to work on Thursday, the PTO/ Scholastic Book Fair was going on and I picked out these, which the PTO bought for me/ the library:

That's what's new with me. What's new with you? Leave a comment with a link to your stack and I'll stop by.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Picture Book Review: Julián is a Mermaid by Jessica Love

Julián is a Mermaid by Jessica Love. unpgd. Candlewick Press, May 22, 2018. 97807636907458. (Review of finished copy courtesy of publisher.)

Do not skip the end-pages of this delightful and heartwarming story of identity. The story starts on the front end-pages and depicts a pool full of pillowy women clad in bright one-piece bathing suits and bathing caps floating in a pool while our protagonist, Julián swims underwater. The title page depicts Julián  and his abuela in street clothes heading to the subway, followed by three beautiful women dressed as mermaids. Julián  loves mermaids and these three mermaids are entrancing. They get on the subway with him and he soon gets lost in a reverie where he sheds his shorts and tank top. 

The first wordless spread is somewhat reminiscent of Mickey's journey in In the Night Kitchen but Julián's journey is underwater and he keeps his briefs on. Two more wordless spreads depict sea green water where he is enveloped by all manner of sea life. When he emerges, he is sporting a pink tail and his hair flows freely in the water. He is happy. 

He is startled back to reality when abuela informs him that they've reached their stop. It is difficult to read abuela's face when Julián  says that he is also a mermaid as she opens the door to their apartment. She announces that she's going to take a bath and that Julian should be good. Instead, he has a good idea. The wordless spreads that follow are a joy to behold as Julián transforms himself. 

But when abuela emerges wrapped in a towel from her bath, he's suddenly unsure.

I will resist the urge to describe, in detail, each terrific spread in this book. I urge you to read it for yourself and share it widely. Julián is spirited and irresistible and abuela is wise and wonderful! The sandy colored background is perfect for the muted yet colorful watercolors. Here and there red or blue might pop. It's all luscious. Each spread begs to be lingered over. Really. I've read it several times and usually find something new to delight.

And, do not skip the final, triumphant end-pages! I know this is garnering lots of stars and getting all sorts of love around the interwebz. I feel compelled to add to the love. Honestly, this debut is spectacular and celebratory and belongs in all libraries - home, school, classroom, public - everywhere. What a wonderful world it would be if we could all see, accept, embrace and allow people to be who they are.  

Taking Stock - May

Total Books: 18/ 145
Total Posts: 28
Total Reviews: 8

Debut: 1/ 5
Audio: 6/ 33
Picture Books: 3/ 51

The Good: My Daily Booktalks are getting good feedback from colleagues and students. 

The Bad: Fell behind in my Goodreads goal and this morning, my Goodreads zeroed out. Luckily, I read that this has happened to others and is eventually corrected. Summer vacation starts in three weeks. I will hopefully catch up then.

The List:
128. Love, Ruby Lavender by Deborah Wins (5/3)*
129. What Makes a Monster? by Jess Keating (5/5)
130. 1001 Pearls of Yoga Wisdom (5/6)
131. Sharing Posts: the spread of fake news by Stephen Currie (5/7)
132. Game Changer by Tommy Greenwald (5/10)
133. The Dark Prophecy (Tales of Apollo #2) by Rick Riordan (5/12)
134. Silenced in the Library: Banned Books by Zeke Jarvis (5/12)
135. Positively Izzy by Teri Libenson (5/13)
136. For Every One by Jason Reynolds (5/17)
137. Sophie Quire and the last storyguard by Jonathan Auxier (5/17)*
138. Pip Bartlett's Guide to Magical Creatures by Jackson Pearce and Maggie Stiefvater (5/18)
139. This Moment is Your life (and so is this one) by Mariam Gates (5/20)
140. Trouble Makes a Comeback by Stephanie Tromly (5/22)
141. Twelve Days in May: Freedom Ride 1991 by Larry Dane Brimner (5/23
142. Soof by Sarah Weeks (5/24)
143.The Aurora County All-Stars by Deborah Wiles (5/25)*
144. Llama Llama loves to read (5/26)
145. Run Wild by David Covell (5/26)

Day of Dialog: Best PD Ever!

I am recovering from the marathon day I had Thursday; but I feel as happy and satisfied as I am exhausted. I boarded a bus into New York City shortly after 7AM and returned to the bus stop at 11:06 PM. Unfortunately, my husband had his phone turned low and missed my texts to come pick me up so I ended up walking most of the way home. 

SLJ has had a Day of Dialog the day before Book Expo for the past seven or so years. It always occurred on the day before the seventh grade overnight trip to Boston, a trip I typically chaperoned, so I never went. One year, I didn't go to Boston but didn't know that you had to register immediately for DoDand so, was shut out. Last year, was my first DoD. I am hooked. I love all my professional development. This day is close to my favorite day because it combines interesting keynotes, author panels and book talks from tons of publishers. 

Last year I lucked into an invitation to a dinner sponsored by a group of publishers that extended the day but introduced me to six new authors and their books. I got invited again this year and also extended the evening with an invitation from Scholastic to celebrate twenty years of Harry Potter.

As I mentioned earlier, my phone battery has been dying quickly so I scrimped on picture taking. 

Fact Friday: Ain't Nothing but a Man: my quest to find the real John Henry by Scott Reynolds Nelson and Marc Aronson

Ain't Nothing but a Man: my quest to find the real John Henry by Scott Reynolds Nelson and Marc Aronson. 64 p. National Geographic Society, December, 2007. 9781426300011. (Own)

Do you know the legend of John Henry? He was a steel-driving man of mythic proportions who laid tracks that would connect the eastern United States with the west. He has been immortalized in song, in a Disney cartoon and Caldecott Honor-winning picture book. But was he real? Historian Nelson recounts the story of his research into finding out in this beautifully designed informational picture book. Not only is the story of John Henry fascinating, this is an excellent portrayal of the work of a historian.