Monday, August 19, 2019

Middle Grade Monday and Arc Review: The World Ends in April by Stacy McAnulty

Image: Random House
The World Ends in April by Stacy McAnulty. 360 p. Random House Books for Young Readers, September 3, 2019. 9781524767617. (Review from arc courtesy of publisher.)

Middle Grade Monday features The World Ends in April by Stacy McAnulty. Eleanor Dross lives with her widowed dad and kid brothers. Her grandfather lives nearby and is a prepper, meaning he's a survivalist prepared for the end of the world. He has stockpiled supplies and trained his grandchildren to be prepared. Elle used to get a kick out of these drills, but lately, not-so-much. Until. Until she comes across a website posted by a former Harvard astronomer that posits that planet Earth is in the path of a huge asteroid. 

The only person outside of her family that Elle is interested in saving is Mack, her bff since kindergarten. Mack is blind. He's the yin to her yang. He's chill and positive, she is so-not and prone to cynicism. Still, their friendship works. Mack insists that Eleanor involve other students in their preparation for TEOTWASKI — the end of the world as we know it. They form a "nature club" and Elle shares survival tips with the members, which include her nemesis, Londyn. As the countdown to April and collision date nears, Elle must come to terms with the fact that Mack may be abandoning her to attend a boarding school for the blind. THAT would be TEOTWASKI for Elle. If the asteroid hits, Elle won't need to worry about that. If it doesn't, not only will Elle will have a bit of a credibility problem, she will not have her single friend to help her through it.

Middle school dialogue and situations ring true in this fast-paced, compelling novel. Readers will feel for Elle, but will understand how her prickly cynicism keeps classmates at arm's length. They might even discuss what makes for credible sources on the internet! An extensive collection of back matter discusses this topic as well as other large impacts in recorded history; definitions; details about survival preparation and legitimate resources for further reading. 

The World Will End in April is perfect for thoughtful readers who enjoyed the author's earlier, The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl (which I LOVED) or stories about misfits, middle school and friendship. 

Saturday, August 17, 2019

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:
Image: HarperCollins Publishers
Cracking the Bell by Geoff Herbach. 254 p. Katherine Tegen Books/ HarperCollins Publishers, September 10, 2019. 9780062453143. 

Publisher synopsis: Friday Night Lights meets Concussion in this powerful and important novel by Geoff Herbach, author of the Stupid Fast series, exploring the dangerous concussion crisis in football through the eyes of a high school team captain.

Isaiah loves football. In fact, football saved Isaiah’s life, giving him structure and discipline after his sister’s death tore his family apart. But when Isaiah gets knocked out cold on the field, he learns there’s a lot more to lose than football.

While recovering from a concussion, Isaiah wonders what his life would look like without the game. All his friends are on the team, and Isaiah knows they can’t win without him. The scholarship offer from Cornell is only on the table if he keeps playing.

And without football, what would keep his family together? What would prevent him from sliding back into the habits that nearly destroyed him?

Isaiah must decide how much he’s willing to sacrifice for the sport that gave him everything, even if playing football threatens to take away his future.

Image: Candlewick Press
Weird Little Robots by Carolyn Crimi. Illustrated by Corinna Luyken. 234 p. Candlewick Press, October 1, 2019. 9780763694937.

Publisher synopsis: Eleven-year-old Penny Rose has just moved to a new town, and so far the robots she builds herself are her only company. But with just a bit of magic, everything changes: she becomes best friends with Lark, has the chance to join a secret science club, and discovers that her robots are alive. Penny Rose hardly remembers how lonely she used to feel. But then a fateful misstep forces her to choose between the best friend she’s always hoped for and the club she’s always dreamed of, and in the end it may be her beloved little robots that pay the price. Quirky and wonderful, this illustrated chapter book from Carolyn Crimi and Corinna Luyken shows that making your own space and a true friend in the world is a kind of magic all its own.

When two science-savvy girls create an entire robot world, they don’t expect the robots to come alive. But life may be a bit more magical than they thought.

The Monster Hypothesis by Romily Bernard. 298 p. Disney/ Hyperion, December 10, 2019. 9781368028554. 

Publisher synopsis: Welcome to Bohring-home to 453 people, 2,053 alligators, and one monster curse.

Correction: home to 454 people, now that Kick Winter is living in the swamp Hollows with her Grandma Missouri, the town (fake) psychic. Bohring is anything but boring for Kick who has already blown a hole through the kitchen floor, befriended a chicken-eating gator, and discovered that the town's hundred-year curse is upon them.

It's the Bohring curse and all the kids are about to become monsters-or so the legend goes. People are worried-except for Kick. She knows there's a scientific explanation for everything, especially curses and monsters. But Kick is the new kid in school and she's determined to make a name for herself . . . by pretending to be psychic.

According to her calculations: one teeny-tiny life + (fake) psychic skills = popularity. But when kids start disappearing and glowing creatures start showing up, Kick's theory quickly evaporates in a puff of foul-smelling swamp gas. Can Kick use her (real) science smarts to prove the curse is a hoax? Or is it just-maybe-sort of-somehow possible the curse is here?

Purchased: Nothing!

If you leave a comment, I will definitely stop by and try to comment back - unless commenters have to sign onto Discus or Wordpress or FB or anything that makes commenting difficult and gives my data to miners. But, I will definitely check your stack!

Friday, August 16, 2019

Fact Friday and Review: Even More Lesser Spotted Animals by Martin Brown

Image: Scholastic
Even More Lesser Spotted Animals by Martin Brown. 54 p. David Fickling Books/ Scholastic Inc., July, 2019. 9781338349610.

When my now thirty-three-year-old son was six, he attended a Montessori elementary school after three years of Montessori preschool. Montessori groups grading and he was in a 1 - 3 class with a lovely teacher. Students in a Montessori elementary school get small group instruction and have a lot of leeway and time to explore and complete tasks. My son was a voracious reader. He decided that he would research an animal, sorry, don't remember what one, but it was tiny and lived in South America, to find out whether or not it was extinct. I remember his six-year-old self explaining to me how hard it was to prove something extinct. 

Okay now. So what does this have to do with my review of More Lesser Spotted Animals? Well, Max would've loved this book, for one. And so will your fact hounds. 

Humorous and conversational, Brown again swivels the spotlight from the A-list animals to point out the attributes of twenty-six lesser known but no less fascinating creatures. With some, such as the ribbon seal, there is so little known about the elusive creatures that its status could not be categorized! Hence, my flashback.

Each double-page spread features an animal or two and sometimes three. There's a full-page portrait, each marked with amusing cartoon eyes. An informal summary introduces each animal and text boxes contain their size, diet, habitat, status and an "AND," an unusual factoid, such as, [the Red River Hog] "noses through elephant dung for undigested seeds." 

Back matter includes a two-page glossary, which includes definitions of the eight tiers of endangerment status. There are no source notes or suggestions for further reading. The end-pages are very cute. Even More Lesser Spotted Animals stands alone is a great companion to Brown's earlier, More Lesser Spotted Animals. Even More stands alone, but after your students gobble it up, they will probably ask for More!

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Audiobook Review: How It Feels to Float by Helena Fox

Image: Penguin Random House
How It Feels to Float by Helena Fox. Unabridged e-audiobook, ~10 hours. Read by Candace Moll. Listening Library/ Penguin Random House, May, 2019. 9781984885562. (Review of e-audio borrowed from public library. Arc courtesy of publisher.)

Seventeen-year-old Biz has a close relationship with her dad. She loves it when he sits at the foot of her bed and tells her stories about when she was born and her early childhood. The problem is that Biz's father died when she was seven. She lives with her mum and six-year-old twin brother and sister in Wollongong, Australia. 

She's indifferent about school. She has a best friend in Grace, whom she kissed, but Grace doesn't "like her like that." The two are nominally part of "The Posse," but more orbiting than central. There's a new boy named Jasper whom Biz finds intriguing though he doesn't seem to like her much. But then, he rescues her from the sea when she ventures out too far one night while partying in the dunes with her posse. 

Later, there is an incident in the dunes involving Tim, and Biz and Grace find themselves ostracized. Grace and Biz make some questionable choices and Grace is packed off to live far away with her father. The worst part is that Biz's dad stops visiting. So she goes in search of him. She thinks that if she visits the places where he was happy, she will find him.

I failed absolutely in my attempt to summarize this utterly devastating yet beautiful debut! How It Feels to Float is one of the best books depicting grief and mental illness I have ever read. Knock, knock! Morris Committee, Printz Committee? Are you listening? Oh, and Odyssey Committee! The audiobook is astounding. Candace Moll's performance is pitch perfect. 

Biz charms and compels from the start, but as the reader is drawn in, cracks begin in her facade and one begins to wonder if this is a work of magical realism. Then one wonders what is real besides her dad's ghost. Make no mistake, this is a harrowing read. Biz lives with a loving family, her siblings adore her and her mother is involved; but even she can't discern the depth of Biz's mental illness. She makes increasingly dangerous choices in her desperate quest to find her father. My heart was in my throat for much of the book. The resolution was hopefully realistic. No neat tidying up here. 

How It Feels to Float should be on everyone's to-read list. It's themes are a bit mature for my crowd at middle school, but it is a first-purchase for all high school and YA library collections. 

#tbt: The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke

Image: Scholastic
The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke. 368 p. The Chicken House/ Scholastic Inc. 2002. 0439404371 (Own)

#tbt is a recommendation by a rising sixth grader. Esther recommends The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke. Funke is known as the "J.K. Rowling of Germany." The Thief Lord was originally published in Germany in 2000. It was translated and published in the U.S. in 2002. It is the story of two brothers. Prosper and Bo are orphans who have run away to Venice. They fall in with a gang of orphans who live in an abandoned theater. They are led by a shadowy teen named Scipio. This work of magically realism is suspenseful and atmospheric. It was adapted for film in 2006.

Thanks Esther!

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Audiobook Review: Ask the Passengers by A. S. King

Image: Listening Library

Ask the Passengers by A. S. King. Unabridged downloadable e-audiobook, ~8 hours, 5 minutes. Read by Devon Sorvari. Listening Library, October, 2012. 9780449015124. (Review of e-audiobook borrowed from public library.)

Confession time: This is my first A. S. King book. Gasp! Tut-tut! I am a bad librarian.

Over the years, I have read reviews/ heard about her titles and thought I would eventually get to them. But I work in a middle school and they seemed to be solidly high school. Then, she wrote a middle grade novel, which I dutifully bought and never got around to reading. (cringes) I was scrolling through the new titles that were added to Libby (our e-library app) a week or so ago and found Ask the Passengers.

I fell in love with Astrid immediately. She lives with a dysfunctional family (Ugh! That mother!) in a tiny, intolerant Pennsylvania town. She's a whip-smart high school senior who's wrestling with the great philosophers in her humanities class and she thinks she might be gay. Oh. And she's also keeping a big secret for her two best friends who happen to be the school's "It Couple." When things get to be a bit much, she retreats to a picnic table that she and her dad built, lies down and searches the skies for passing aircraft that she can send her love to. Passenger narratives are interspersed throughout Astrid's first-person narration and add an interesting perspective. 

Astrid is a winning narrator. She's smart and dryly hilarious. She's truly questioning her sexuality. She doesn't deny her attraction to Dee, her cute co-worker, but she's also resistant to labels and, truthfully, terrified of the rumor mill and her family's reaction if she does. New-to-me narrator* Devon Sorvari strikes the right balance of snark and sincerity. (*Oops, turns out, she's not. She read Dorothy Must Die.

There's a lot to absorb and ponder here. It's mature stuff with some a lot of profanity. It's typical of high school students and not gratuitous. That said, issues of identity are rendered intelligently and respectfully. Thoughtful high school students should be able to relate to this outstanding novel regardless of where they identify. Ask the Passengers floored me. I'm sorry it took so long to get to. I can't wait to read more of King's work.

Waiting on Wednesday: The Chaos Curse by Sayantani Das Gupta

Image: Scholastic

The Chaos Curse by Sayantani Das Gupta. 360 p. Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond series, #3. Scholastic Inc., March 3, 2020. 9781338355895.

Publisher synopsis: Kiranmala must leave the Kingdom Beyond and travel to her hometown of Parsippany to save Prince Lal, who has been spirited to the unlikeliest of places -- a tree in the yard of her best-enemy-for-life. She also faces evil serpents (of course!), plus a frightening prophecy about her role in the coming conflict between good and evil. Most troubling of all, though, is the way reality all around her seems to waver and flicker at odd moments. Could it be that the Anti-Chaos Committee's efforts are causing a dangerous disruption in the multiverse?

Kiran must grapple with the increasingly tangled threads that threaten to ensnare her...and everyone in the world and the Kingdom Beyond.

Fans of Rick Riordan will eat this series up. It's fast-paced, laugh-out-loud fun!