Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Taking Stock -January, 2018

And January's already over! Yikes!

Total posts this month: 34
Total books read this month: 22
Total books read this year: 22

Audio: 5
Debut: 1
Picture Book: 9

The Good: I posted plenty. This is mostly due to crossposting my Daily Booktalks from the morning broadcast at school. 

The Bad: Didn't hit a book a day. This is partly due to needing to grade a ton of assignments and partly due to a tiny slump.

The List:

1. The Street Beneath My Feet by Charlotte Guillain (1/4)
2. Up! Up! Up! Skyscraper by Anastasia Suen (1/4)
3. The Fish Who Cried Wolf by Julia Donaldson (1/5)
4. Far from the Tree by Robin Benway (1/7)
5. Colores de la vida: Mexican Folk Art colors in English and Spanish by Cynthia Weill. (1/10)
6. The Too-scary Story by Bethanie Deeney Murguia (1/11)
7. Groovy Joe Dance Party Countdown by Eric Litwin (1/11)
8. Zog and the Flying Doctors by Julia Donaldson (1/12)
9. Before the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray (1/13)
10. Dear Martin by Nic Stone (1/15)*
11. Hi Jack! by Mac Barnett (1/17)
12. Schomburg: the man who built a library by Carole Boston Weatherford (1/18)
13. The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson (1/19)*
14. Smart Cookie by Elly Swartz (1/20)
15. Victor Dowd and the World War II Ghost Army by Enigma Alberti (1/21)*
16. 50 Cities of the U.S.A. by Gabrielle Balkan (1/21)
17. Don't Forget Dexter! by Lindsay Ward (1/22)*
18. The Sleeping Prince by Melinda Salisbury (1/23)
19. Notorious RBG: the life and times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Young Readers' Edition) by Irin Carmon & Shana Knizhnik (1/26)
20. Remy Sneakers vs. the Robo-Rats by Kevin Sherry (1/26)
21. The Force Oversleeps by Jarrett J. Krosoczka (1/27)
22. They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera (1/28)*
23. Evil Emperor Penguin by Laura Ellen Anderson (1/31)

Waiting on Wednesday: Nate Expectations by Tim Federle

Nate Expectations by Tim Federle. 192 p. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, September 18, 2018. 9781481404129.

Publisher synopsis: Third time’s a charm! Nate Foster returns home to Jankburg, Pennsylvania, to face his biggest challenge yet—high school—in this final novel in the Lambda Literary Award–winning Nate trilogy, which The New York Times calls “inspired and inspiring.”

When the news hits that E.T.: The Musical wasn’t nominated for a single Tony Award—not one!—the show closes, leaving Nate both out of luck and out of a job. And while Nate’s cast mates are eager to move on (the boy he understudies already landed a role on a TV show!), Nate knows it’s back to square one, also known as Jankburg, Pennsylvania. Where horror (read: high school) awaits.

Desperate to turn his life from flop to fabulous, Nate takes on a huge freshman English project with his BFF, Libby: he’s going to make a musical out of Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations. (What could possibly go…right?) But when Nate’s New York crush ghosts him, and his grades start to slip, he finds the only thing harder than being on Broadway is being a freshman — especially when you’ve got a secret you’re desperate to sing out about.

This magical conclusion to Tim Federle’s beloved Nate series is a love letter to theater kids young and not-so-young—and for anyone who ever wondered if they could truly go home again. Especially when doing so means facing everything you thought you’d left behind.

It is no secret that I absolutely adore Tim and his books. He does it all - picture books, YA, middle grade, drinks recipes with a literary twist and life advice. I enjoyed Tuck Everlasting and was so sad that it closed so quickly because I was looking forward to seeing it again. I found out about this new Nate book from Tim's FB page, where he posted a link to this article a few weeks ago. There are lots of reasons why I'm sad that I decided to pass on going to Midwinter this year and this is yet another reason if S&S will be giving out arcs.

I do have to say that while I love the new cover design, I also loved the covers of the first two and as someone who has first edition copies of both books in both school and personal libraries, I am a tad sad. 

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Teen Tuesday: The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle

The Great American Whatever by Tim Federle. 288 p. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, March, 2016. 9781481404099. (Purchased.)

Our Teen Tuesday feature is Tim Federle's YA debut, The Great American Whatever. Quinn Roberts is nearly seventeen-years-old and should be having the time of his life. Instead, he has holed himself up in his room for the last six months - ever since his sister, Annabeth died in a car accident. The two were best friends and film collaborators and grief is nearly consuming Quinn. His mother isn't helping at all as she is equally paralyzed by grief. It is up to Quinn's best friend, Geoff to literally drag Quinn out of his house. He got Quinn a haircut and some clean clothes and brought him to a college party where Quinn meets Amir. The Great American Whatever is a great read for mature teens who like hilarious with a side of sad. Quinn is a memorable character who is as endearing as he is infuriating.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Middle Grade Monday: Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle

Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle. 275 p. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, February 5, 2013. 9781442446892. (Purchased)

This went on the morning announcements this morning: Middle Grade Monday features Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle. Better Nate Than Ever was Tim's debut and was published in 2013. A sequel, Five, Six, Seven, Nate! was published in 2014. Between then and now, Tim debuted a picture book, Tommy Can't Stop, a YA novel, which will be featured tomorrow, an advice book, which was featured earlier this year, co-wrote the libretto for the Broadway musical, Tuck Everlasting and co-wrote the screenplay for the animated film, Ferdinand. He also co-edited an upcoming story collection with Maureen Johnson called, How I Resist: activism and hope for a new generation.

The announcements on the morning show need to be short by necessity. But here, I can talk as much as I want. Back to the Nate books:

Small towns can be brutal for a kid with big dreams, especially if those dreams involve Broadway musicals and jazz hands. Eleven-year-old Nate Foster maintains his optimism thanks to a wicked sense of humor and a best friend who gets him. He lives in Jankburg, PA with a fairly dysfunctional family that worships all things football. At school, he's perceived as gay and bullied relentlessly. Best friend, Lizzie learns that there is an open casting call for a new Broadway musical based on ET during the same weekend Nate's parents will be away. Nate hops on a bus headed to the Big Apple to pursue his dream.

Nate's first-person narration is at turns hilariously funny and so utterly poignant, tissues are needed. Nate is one of a handful of characters that will reside in my heart forever. I read this book twice, once with my eyes and later with my ears, coincidentally finishing it as I pulled into my hotel garage in Philadelphia to attend ALAMW14. Better Nate Than Ever won two Youth Media Awards the following Monday! 

I also read the sequel, Five, Six, Seven, Nate! twice. In my review, I wished for a third Nate book. That wish is coming true - stayed tuned for the Waiting on Wednesday post! And tune in tomorrow because Tim's YA debut, The Great American Whatever is the Teen Tuesday feature. With a picture book, middle grade and YA under his belt, he does it all. Does this man sleep? 

He hasn't been around long enough to have a book eligible for #tbt. I already featured the book that could be a Fact Friday entry here. While he does have three other books that could be considered non-fiction, they are hilarious recipes for drinks, as in alcoholic drinks - two based on literature for adults and one based on nursery rhymes, but aimed at grown ups. They are books I recommend to my grown-up friends.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Fact Friday: 50 Cities of the U.S. A. by Gabrielle Balkan

50 Cities of the U.S. A. by Gabrielle Balkan. 112 p. Wide Eyed Editions/ Quarto Group, September, 2017. 9781847808707. (Review of finished copy courtesy of publisher.)

Fact Friday features a great book for young browsers or readers who love to travel. This colorful oversize volume cannot be read in one sitting - there is just too much to take in. The author highlights fifty U.S. cities but not all fifty states are represented as some states, such as Texas, have two cities highlighted.

Arranged alphabetically by city, each double-page spread is crammed with maps, facts, famous denizens, trivia and suggestions for what to do during a day in the city. This is a terrific way to get lost in a book and learn a bit of geography.

Friday Memes: Al Capone Throws Me a Curve by Gennifer Choldenko

Book Beginnings is hosted by Rose City Reader and Friday 56 is hosted by Freda's Voice.

Al Capone Throws Me a Curve by Gennifer Choldenko. 225 p. Wendy Lamb Books/ Random House Children's Books, May 8, 2018. 9781101938133. 

Publisher synopsis: Return to Al Capone's Alcatraz with Newbery Honor-winning author Gennifer Choldenko in this charming addition to the beloved series about the son of a prison guard.

Moose Flanagan lives on a famous island in California: Alcatraz, home to some of the most dangerous prisoners in the United States in the 1930s. It's the summer before he starts high school, and Moose is going to play a lot of baseball and win a spot on the high school team. But he still needs to watch his special older sister, Natalie—and then the warden asks Moose to look after his two-faced, danger-loving daughter, Piper. 

In the cell house there are rumors that the cons will a strike, and that Moose's father might step up to a new job. Moose is worried: What will this mean for their family, especially for Natalie, who's had some scary run-ins with prisoners? Then the unthinkable happens: Natalie winds up someplace she should never, ever go. And Moose has to rescue her.

First Line: 1. Potty-Training a Snake

Tuesday, May 26, 1936

Even when you live on a prison island with crafty criminals plotting ways to knock you off, summer is the best time of year.

Page 56: 7. The Rule of Silence

Wednesday, May 27, 1936

I can smell the cake before I even open the door. Mom is in the living room, thumbing through the Sears catalog. When she looks up, she smiles at me. But then she sees Natalie. The catalog slips out of her hand and thuds to the rug. She gags.

      "Bea gave her a different hairstyle and a new birthday dress. Nat's really excited about it." I'm talking twice as fast as normal. I can't look my mom in the eye.

I am so-o excited by this surprise new entry in the Tales of Alcatraz series!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

#tbt: Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo

Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo. 208 p. Scholastic, October, 2004. 9780439636483. (Review from purchased copy.) 

#tbt features another all-time favorite title, Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo. Private Thomas Peaceful is on watch and needs to stay awake for the entire night. If he falls asleep, he could be executed. To keep himself alert, he reflects upon his childhood and how he ended up fighting in World War I. 

Though poor, he had a happy childhood. He grew up on a farm in the English countryside in a loving family. He adored his father and older brother, Charlie and feels protective of his brain-damaged oldest brother, Big Joe. He also has a crush on Charlie's friend, Molly. He feels guilt over his father's accidental death and lies about his age to follow Charlie into the army. 

The structure of this intricately plotted novel is sophisticated but rewarding. Charlie is an engaging storyteller who holds the reader rapt and feeling such a variety of emotions that when the reason for his duty is revealed at the end, feelings of shock, grief and devastation are unavoidable. 

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Arc Review: Smart Cookie by Elly Swartz

Smart Cookie by Elly Swartz. 273 p. Scholastic Press/ Scholastic Inc., January 30, 2018. 9781338143584. (Review from arc courtesy of publisher.)

Eleven-year-old Frankie Greene is a girl with a secret. She lives with her widowed dad and maternal grandmother in a bed and breakfast that distinguishes itself by being named for  board games and serving homemade, fresh from the oven cookies at check-in. She has a lot of responsibility helping her dad run the B & B. She'd also like a mother so she has posted a profile for her dad on a dating site and is screening "possibles." Frankie is not the only family member with secrets. Gram has a locked shed in the backyard and maybe a secret boyfriend at the senior center. Dad is having whispered arguments with a sleazy developer who wants the B & B. Her best friend, Elliot is obsessed with finding ghosts and her former best friend, Jessica is just being vile.

Elly Swartz's sophomore effort spins a lot of plates but works thanks to the voice of her spunky heroine, Frankie. The first-person narrative is amusing and fast-paced. Frankie's habit of storing worries behind her big toe caused me to worry that she'd develop gout. Her letters to her dead mother are endearing and Elliot is just a hoot! Other characters are well-developed such as Mabel, the cheating card player at Gram's senior center. Fans of Finding Perfect will not be disappointed. This gentle story is fun; part mystery with a dash of ghost story coupled with relatable school and friend drama. Give it to any reader really; but I think fans of Sheila Turnage's Mo and Dale books (Three Times Lucky, The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing and The Odds of Getting Even) would especially appreciate the boy/girl best friendship and banter. 

Waiting on Wednesday: Back from the Brink: saving animals from extinction by Nancy Castaldo

Back from the Brink: saving animals from extinction by Nancy Castaldo. 176 p. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, April 24, 2018. 9780544953437.

Publisher synopsis: How could capturing the last wild California condors help save them? Why are some states planning to cull populations of the gray wolf, despite this species only recently making it off the endangered list? How did a decision made during the Civil War to use alligator skin for cheap boots nearly drive the animal to extinction?
Back from the Brink answers these questions and more as it delves into the threats to seven species, and the scientific and political efforts to coax them back from the brink of extinction. This rich, informational look at the problem of extinction has a hopeful tone: all of these animals' numbers are now on the rise

Love that cover. Plus, I really enjoyed the author's Sniffer Dogs.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Teen Tuesday: Before the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray

Before the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray. The Diviners book 3. Unabridged audiobook on seventeen compact discs. 21 hours and 21 minutes. Read by January LaVoy. PenguinRandom House, October, 2017. 9780449808832. (Reviewed from finished recording borrowed from public library. Print copy purchased.)

This Teen Tuesday is not for the faint of heart or the average middle school reader. Additionally, don't read Before the Devil Breaks You without reading the first two books of The Diviners series, The Diviners and Lair of Dreams. This paranormal horror story is set in New York City during the Roaring 20s. Evil has been unleashed on the world and the ghosts are restless. They are being amassed by The King of Crows, aka The Man in the Stovepipe Hat, and it's up to The Diviners to get to the bottom of the mystery of who was responsible for releasing the king. Spectral menaces are not the only danger for the crew. The Shadow Men are also after them. As the Diviners move closer to uncovering the meaning of The Buffalo Project, their lives are at risk. The cliffhanger ending will leave readers panting for the next installment.

I adore this series. I read The Diviners as an arc with my eyes and reread it with my ears when the book released. I was positutely tickled by January LaVoy's performance. She really brought an already amazing story to yet another level of brilliance. I made a conscious decision to read Lair of Dreams with my ears. Again, the range of LaVoy's voices and her consistent excellence in keeping track of all those distinct voices is just astonishing. Before the Devil Breaks You hits the ground running. New characters are introduced. The suspense ratchets up. Surprises are unfolded. All-in-all, quite magnificent and chilling.

Blog Tour/ Book Review: Don't Forget Dexter by Lindsay Ward

Don't Forget Dexter by Lindsay Ward. Unpgd. Two Lions/ Amazon Publishing, January, 2018. 9781542047272. (Review from finished copy courtesy of publicist, Blue Slip Media.)

Dexter the T-Rexter is big and strong and has a best friend named Jack who takes him everywhere, even the doctor's office. Poor Dexter is not-so-tough as he freaks out when he realizes that he's been left behind! One minute he was happily coloring and the next moment, he looked up and Jack was gone! His amusing stream-of-consciousness is successively anxious/ obnoxious as he works himself up into a full-blown panic attack/ tantrum. Perhaps Jack has found himself a new toy to like? The horror!

The palette of the ink, color pencil and cut paper illustrations veer a bit to pastels with Dexter featured in brilliant orange tones. Don't skip the dedication/ copyright pages because the story starts there. This story of a lost and found object will resonate with both parents and children who have lost and found/ not found a beloved toy or comfort object. The fact that the story is told from the POV of the toy, which perfectly mirrors the behavior a human child would exhibit in the same situation is comic genius.

According to the jacket flap, the story was inspired by the author's husband who took a picture of a left-behind toy in a doctor's office and captioned it, "Well, they left me here." Dexter is endearingly anxious and Don't Forget Dexter is the first in a possible series, with It's Show and Tell, Dexter! due to publish July 17 according to the author's website. I recommend that you start from the home page as this site is particularly well-designed. There will be activities linked to the Don't Forget Dexter page soon. 

Don't miss Don't Forget Dexter! 

Monday, January 22, 2018

Middle Grade Monday: Spy on History: Victor Dowd and the World War II Ghost Army by Enigma Alberti

Spy on History: Victor Dowd and the World War II Ghost Army by Enigma Alberti. Illustrated by Scott Wegener. Spy on History series #2. 96 p. Workman Publishing, January 23, 2018. 9780761193265. (Review from finished copy courtesy of publisher.)

This was fun even though I stink at decoding. If you have a history or spy buff in your life, hand this book to him or her. Heck, just display this attractive, enticing little volume and it should go out and stay out. Everything from it's trim size through the blood-red, die-cut cover screams, "Pick me up!" Profusely illustrated in black, gray and red, the narrative engages from page one and ratchets up the suspense as events unfold. Selected typography pops bold and enlarged on nearly every page. There are clues embedded throughout the book from the map at the front, the copyright page all the way to the end. 

Readers will find an envelope (hopefully) containing four items needed to break the codes in the front. It should be interesting to see how this works with library books, as my 39 Clues books were rarely returned with the cards in place. Backmatter includes a historical note, suggestions for further reading, and sealed pages with the answers, which, of course, I had to look at because I solved NOTHING. 

While I was aware of deception using dummy equipment during WWII, this story really brought to life how complicated the entire project was as well as the danger to the very talented troops recruited for the top secret task.

This is the first I've learned of this series. I am definitely ordering #1, Spy On History: Mary Bowser and the Civil War Spy Ring and will be on the lookout for any future entries. Check out the Workman's page for the book where you can view some of the pages.

Saturday, January 20, 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:

Heroes of Black History: biographies of four great Americans by the Editors of TIME for Kids magazine. Liberty Street/ Time Inc., December, 2017. 9781683300120.

Publisher synopsis: TIME For Kids Heroes of Black History presents the stories of four great American heroes every child should know about in one volume: Harriet Tubman, Jackie Robinson, Rosa Parks, and Barack Obama. Featuring an introduction by journalist and civil rights activist Charlayne Hunter-Gault, Heroes of Black History shines a light on the long fight for social justice in the United States as it highlights the accomplishments and personal histories of these four pivotal Americans.

Young readers learn about the life of Harriet Tubman—born a slave around 1820, she escaped to the North, but returned to the South nineteen times as a conductor on the Underground Railroad to lead 300 slaves to freedom. An incredibly gifted athlete, Jackie Robinson endured taunts, slurs, and death threats when he broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball in 1947. Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on an Alabama bus in 1955 and paved the way for a Supreme Court decision that declared segregation on Alabama’s public buses was unconstitutional. On January 20, 2009, Barack Obama took the oath of office as our country’s first African American president. 

Illustrated with a dynamic mix of photographs and illustrations, the biographies of these Americans delve deeper than their accomplishments to reveal details on their childhoods, early experiences, schooling, family life, and more. Sidebars about related topics—Underground Railroad routes, sports firsts, the Harlem Renaissance, and more—give context and additional insights for young readers. Heroes of Black History also gives readers a timeline overview of three centuries of African American history, beginning with the slave trade, touching upon the formation of the NAACP, the civil rights movement, the March on Washington, and other pivotal events, up through the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement. Brief profiles of more than twenty additional heroes of black history, a glossary of key terms, and a detailed index are also included in this comprehensive book.


Posted by John David Anderson. Unabridged audiobook on one MP3-CD. 9.5 hours. Read by Patrick Lawlor. HarperAudio/ Blackstone Publishers, May, 2017. 9781538419007.

Publisher synopsis: John David Anderson, author of Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, returns with a funny, honest, and original story about bullying, broken friendships, and failures of communication.In middle school, words aren’t just words. They can be weapons. They can be gifts. The right words can win you friends, or make you enemies. They can come back to haunt you. Sometimes they can change things forever.When cell phones are banned at Branton Middle School, Frost and his friends Deedee, Wolf, and Bench come up with a new way to communicate: leaving sticky notes for each other all around the school. It catches on, and soon all the kids in school are leaving notes—though for every kind and friendly one, there is a cutting and cruel one as well. Before long the sticky notes spiral out of control, starting a war of words and insults that threatens to tear friendships apart.In the middle of this, a new girl named Rose arrives at school and sits at Frost’s lunch table. Rose is not like anyone else at Branton Middle School, and it’s clear that the close circle of friends Frost has made for himself won’t easily hold another. As the sticky note wars escalate, and the pressure to choose sides mounts, Frost soon realizes that after this eighth-grade year, nothing will ever be the same.John David Anderson, the acclaimed author of Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, returns with the story of five friends struggling to fit in, to find themselves, and to summon the courage to say the things that need to be said.

Scythe by Neal Shusterman. Unabridged audiobook on one MP3-CD. 11 hours. Read by Greg Tremblay. Brilliance Audio, June, 2017. 9781543617948.

Publisher synopsis: Two teens must learn the “art of killing” in this Printz Honor–winning book, the first in a chilling new series from Neal Shusterman, author of the New York Times bestselling Unwind dystology.

A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery: humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now Scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.

Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.

Scythe is the first novel of a thrilling new series by National Book Award–winning author Neal Shusterman in which Citra and Rowan learn that a perfect world comes only with a heavy price.

Peace, Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson. Unabridged audiobook on one MP3-CD. 2 hours. Read by Dion Graham. Brilliance Audio, July, 2009. 9781423397984.

Publisher synopsis: The stunning companion to the National Book Award finalist--from a three-time Newbery Honor winning author

Twelve-year-old Lonnie is finally feeling at home with his foster family. But because he’s living apart from his little sister, Lili, he decides it’s his job to be the “rememberer”—and write down everything that happens while they’re growing up. Lonnie’s musings are bittersweet; he’s happy that he and Lili have new families, but though his new family brings him joy, it also brings new worries. With a foster brother in the army, concepts like Peace have new meaning for Lonnie.Told through letters from Lonnie to Lili, this thought-provoking companion to Jacqueline Woodson’s National Book Award finalist Locomotion tackles important issues in captivating, lyrical language. Lonnie’s reflections on family, loss, love and peace will strike a note with readers of all ages.

That's what's new with me. What's new with you? Leave your link and I will definitely visit and comment. 

Friday, January 19, 2018

Fact Friday: Let's Talk about Race by Julius Lester

The world of children's literature lost a giant yesterday. This Fact Friday Feature honors author Julius Lester. He wrote over 40 books, 31 for children. His non-fiction book, To Be a Slave won a Newbery Honor in 1968. Jerry Pinkney won a Caldecott Honor for the illustrations in Lester's book, John Henry (a book I cannot read without tearing up). He won the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, a Coretta Scott King Award and was a National Book Award Finalist. He was a musician who wrote folk songs as well as a college professor. In 2005, he wrote a picture book called Let's Talk about Race, illustrated by Karen Barbour. In this simple, yet stunning book, he engages the reader in a conversation starter about race that is natural and thoughtful.

Let's Talk about Race by Julius Lester. Illustrated by Karen Barbour. unpgd. HarperCollins Publisher, January, 2005. 9780060285982. (own)

Friday Memes: The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson

Book Beginnings is hosted by Rose City Reader and Friday 56 is hosted by Freda's Voice.

The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson. 340 p. Arthur A. Levine Books/ Scholastic Inc., March 27, 2018. 9780545946179.

Publisher synopsis: When Candice finds a letter in an old attic in Lambert, South Carolina, she isn't sure she should read it. It's addressed to her grandmother, who left the town in shame. But the letter describes a young woman. An injustice that happened decades ago. A mystery enfolding the letter-writer. And the fortune that awaits the person who solves the puzzle.

So with the help of Brandon Jones, the quiet boy across the street, she begins to decipher the clues. The challenge will lead them deep into Lambert's history, full of ugly deeds, forgotten heroes, and one great love; and deeper into their own families, with their own unspoken secrets. Can they find the fortune and fulfill the letter's promise before the answers slip into the past yet again?

First Line: October 17, 2007
April Caldwell stared at the letter.
The letter stared back.

Page 56: "Do you have a computer and Internet at home?" Candace asked Brandon as they entered the atrium. "Please tell me you do. Now that we know his name, this could be our big break."
     "It's super-slow, but it works," Brandon said. :Do you really think it's that simple? We do a web search on this Parker guy, and that leads us to the money? That seems...I don't know. Convenient. Easy."
     "Maybe. It's just that I can't help but wonder-what if this was the one clue my grandma missed-just like we almost did. What if..."

The Westing Game is pretty popular at my school as are Johnson's "Heist" books. I've enjoyed his YA fare and am thrilled that he's turned his talents to middle grade. 

Thursday, January 18, 2018

#tbt: Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick

Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick. 273 p. Scholastic Press/ Scholastic Inc., 2005. 9780439755191. (Own)

This one's near and dear to my heart. Not only is it one of my all-time faves, it's my go-to book for students who love sad books and students who love funny ones, as well as students who say they hate sad books. In 2005, the eighth grade LA teacher at my last school read Drums and told me it was a must-read. I read it, and totally agreed. We also agreed that her classes needed to read the book and we needed to arrange for Jordan to visit our school for a day. These were done and his visit was a smashing success. Students loved the book (especially boys who didn't like sad) and they really appreciated meeting Jordan. As a former LA teacher, he gets middle schoolers and knows how to tell a good story. (Believe me, not all visiting authors can keep the attention of middle school students.) He still does school visits. Check out the information here.

Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie was originally published by a small company, DayBlue Publishing. Unfortunately, it went out of business shortly after Drums debuted. Luckily, Drums was bought by Scholastic, where Jordan has gone on to publish six (by my count) more books. He published four books with Feiwel & Friends-a three-book middle grade series beginning with Dodger and Me and a YA book set during Woodstock, Are You Experienced?

Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie has been named to quite a few State Award lists as well as the YALSA's Best Picks list. In 2010, a companion novel, After Ever After was published. That won a Schneider Family Book Award among other honors. I still cry whenever I reread this one.

Drums opens at Steven Alper's eighth grade graduation. As he sits on stage, he reflects on the previous year. His pesky five-year-old brother, Jeffrey was diagnosed with leukemia early in the school year and Steven was basically on his own to muddle through. At turns heartbreaking and hysterically funny, readers ride an emotional rollercoaster right beside Steven. This is the rare book that is a successful whole-class read. Many students go on to read the rest of Jordan's books.

Here are a few more covers. The original cover is on the right.


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Waiting on Wednesday: Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak Spanish by Pablo Cartaya

Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak Spanish by Pablo Cartaya. 272 p. Penguin Young Readers Group, August 21, 2018. 9781101997260.

Publisher synopsis: One boy's search for his father leads him to Puerto Rico in this moving middle grade novel, for fans of Ghost and See You in the Cosmos.

Marcus Vega is six feet tall, 180 pounds, and the owner of a premature mustache. When you look like this and you're only in the eighth grade, you're both a threat and a target. 
After a fight at school leaves Marcus facing suspension, Marcus's mom decides it's time for a change of environment. She takes Marcus and his younger brother to Puerto Rico to spend a week with relatives they don't remember or have never met. But Marcus can't focus knowing that his father—who walked out of their lives ten years ago—is somewhere on the island. 

So begins Marcus's incredible journey, a series of misadventures that take him all over Puerto Rico in search of his elusive namesake. Marcus doesn't know if he'll ever find his father, but what he ultimately discovers changes his life. And he even learns a bit of Spanish along the way.

I learned about this from the author's essay on the Nerdy Book Club blog earlier this month. I really enjoyed his debut, The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora and can't wait to read his sophomore effort!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Teen Tuesday (audiobook review): Far from the Tree by Robin Benway

Far from the Tree by Robin Benway. Unabridged audiobook on 1 MP3-CD. Read by Julia Whelan. HarperAudio, December, 2017. 9781538518755. (Review from purchased audiobook.)

Teen Tuesday features Far from the Tree by Robin Benway. Benway won the National Book Award for Literature for Young People for this book last November. The story is told from three perspectives - Grace, a sixteen-year-old girl who, having given up her own daughter for adoption decides that she wants to learn more about her own birth mother who gave her up at birth. She learns that she has two half-siblings, a sister, Maya, who was also adopted at birth and an older brother, Joaquin, who was surrendered to foster care, was never adopted and is about to age out of the system. This multi-layered, (make no assumptions) deeply emotional book (there will be tears) is best read by students in grade 8 and up. 

I enjoyed this one but I had to get over the narrator's annoying voices for any male character. While she was rather soft-spoken, the whole narration was a bit dead-pan and dry. 

Monday, January 15, 2018

Middle Grade Monday: The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary by Laura Shovan

The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary by Laura Shovan. 256 p. Random House Children's Books, April, 2016. 9780553521375.

Since I reviewed this for SLJ, it never appeared on my blog. I don't think that prohibits my recommending it for a Middle Grade Monday post.

Students who love verse novels or novels with multiple points-of-view will want to check out The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary by Laura Shovan. In this debut, 18 students in Ms. Hill's fifth grade class have been assigned the task of keeping a poetry journal. Their's is the last fifth grade to graduate and Ms. Hill wants to document their year. This diverse group of students bring distinct voices to their poems. They worry about a variety of things from the school's closing to one girl's mom's imminent deployment. They even ponder the possibility that their teacher may have been arrested for protesting the Vietnam war. Helpful backmatter includes an explanation of all the poetic forms used in the story.

Saturday, January 13, 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:
A happy dance happened when I found this in my mailbox!

Al Capone Throws Me a Curve by Gennifer Choldenko. 240 p. A Tale from Alcatraz. Wendy Lamb Books/Random House Childrens Books, May 8, 2018. 9781101938133.

Publisher synopsis:
Return to Al Capone's Alcatraz with Newbery Honor-winning author Gennifer Choldenko in this charming addition to the beloved series about the son of a prison guard.

Moose Flanagan lives on a famous island in California: Alcatraz, home to some of the most dangerous prisoners in the United States in the 1930s. It's the summer before he starts high school, and Moose is going to play a lot of baseball and win a spot on the high school team. But he still needs to watch his special older sister, Natalie—and then the warden asks Moose to look after his two-faced, danger-loving daughter, Piper.

In the cell house there are rumors that the cons will a strike, and that Moose's father might step up to a new job. Moose is worried: What will this mean for their family, especially for Natalie, who's had some scary run-ins with prisoners? Then the unthinkable happens: Natalie winds up someplace she should never, ever go. And Moose has to rescue her.


Reading Picture Books to with Children: How to shake up storytime and get kids talking about what they see by Megan Dowd Lambert. 152 p. Charlesbridge, November, 2015. 9781580896627.

Heard about this book from a webinar.

Scar Island by Dan Gemeinhart. Unabridged audiobook on one MP3 CD. 6 hours, 42 minutes. Read by MacLeod Andrews. Scholastic on Brilliance Audio, March, 2017. 9781536691796.

Hate to say this, but I wasn't able to get into this one reading with my eyes. When I saw it was narrated by my fave, MacLeod Andrews, I decided to try reading it with my ears.

That's what's new with me. What's new with you? Leave your link and I will definitely visit and comment. 

Friday, January 12, 2018

Fact Friday: Martin Rising: Requiem for a King by Andrea Davis Pinkney

Martin Rising: Requiem for a King by Andrea Davis Pinkney. Illustrated by Brian Pinkney. 128 p. Scholastic Inc., January, 2018. 978545702539. (Review of arc courtesy of publisher.)

Fact Friday features a biography in verse in honor of Martin Luther King Day. Martin Rising: Requiem for a King by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney. This beautifully designed book features stunning water color and ink illustrations and covers Dr. King's last months from his birthday on January 15, 1968 through his assassination on April 4 and ends on Easter Sunday. The power, imagery and beauty of the poems invite reading aloud if not performance. Backmatter includes author & illustrator notes, a timeline and historical context, making this work an important must-purchase addition to any school, classroom or personal library.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

#tbt: The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman. 399 p. Alfred A. Knopf, 1996. 9780679879244. (Own.)

The Golden Compass was originally published as Northern Lights in the UK in 1995. It is the first book of a trilogy called, His Dark Materials. Twelve-year-old Lyra lives at Jordan College, Oxford in an alternate universe where everyone has a bonded daemon and Lyra's is called Pantalaimon or Pan, for short. Her uncle, Lord Asriel is about to visit and Lyra witnesses her guardian poison the wine that would be served to Asriel. She warns her uncle, then eavesdrops on his lecture about "dust" and she learns of his research in the north. When Lyra is adopted by a socialite named Mrs. Coulter, her guardian gifts her an alethiometer, a truth divining device also known as the golden compass. Lyra uses it intuitively and learns that Mrs. Coulter is working against her uncle and heading an evil organization that is kidnapping children. She flees hoping to find her uncle in the north, but is pursued by Mrs. Coulter. 

This is fantasy literature at its finest with vivid world building, memorable characters, nail-biting suspense and thrilling adventure. One would think the story would translate into a great film. Alas, the 2007 adaptation was a disappointment. I read the three books before I started blogging. Perhaps a reread is due while waiting for The Book of Dust Volume 2.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Waiting on Wednesday: Stanley Will Probably be Fine by Sally J. Pla

Stanley Will Probably be Fine by Sally J. Pla. 288 p. HarperCollins Publishers, February 6, 2018. 9780062445797.

Publisher synopsis: This funny and moving second novel from the author of The Someday Birds features comic trivia, a safety superhero, and a super-cool scavenger hunt all over downtown San Diego, as our young hero Stanley Fortinbras grapples with his anxiety—and learns what, exactly, it means to be brave.

Nobody knows comics trivia like Stanley knows comics trivia.

It’s what he takes comfort in when the world around him gets to be too much. And after he faints during a safety assembly, Stanley takes his love of comics up a level by inventing his own imaginary superhero, named John Lockdown, to help him through.

Help is what he needs, because Stanley’s entered Trivia Quest—a giant comics-trivia treasure hunt—to prove he can tackle his worries, score VIP passes to Comic Fest, and win back his ex-best friend. Partnered with his fearless new neighbor Liberty, Stanley faces his most epic, overwhelming, challenging day ever.

What would John Lockdown do?

Stanley’s about to find out.

I adored Pla's debut, The Someday Birds and so do my students!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Teen Tuesday and Audiobook Review: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman. The Book of Dust Volume One. Unabridged recording on 11 compact discs. 13 hours, 8 minutes. Read by Michael Sheen. Random House/ Listening Library, October, 2017. 9780525522997. (Recording borrowed from public library, hard cover purchased.)

Teen Tuesday features La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman. This is book one in a series called, The Book of Dust and it is a prequel to Pullman's earlier trilogy, His Dark Materials. While it is not necessary to read the earlier trilogy to enjoy this prequel, Ms. Kahn recommends that you do. The worldbuilding in this alternate universe is vivid and spectacular. The story hits the ground running and the tension and suspense ratchets up and stays up leaving the reader breathless. La Belle Sauvage also features one of the most frightening villains in YA literature. While His Dark Materials can be read by most students at TMS, La Belle Sauvage is better for students in grades 7 & 8.

This is the story of Lyra Belacqua's early childhood; but the hero of the story is eleven-year-old Malcolm Polstead. He is the bright, observant and personable son of innkeepers. Though he goes to school and enjoys it, he sees an end to his education soon to most likely work with his parents at the inn, The Trout. He enjoys visiting the sisters who run the nearby priory and his curiosity is piqued by the newest resident, the infant, Lyra. He is totally enchanted by her bright-eyed cheerful manner and her daemon, Pantalaimon.

Malcolm is also intrigued by an artifact left behind by a patron, who later is found dead. He investigates and stumbles upon a spy network where he becomes an informant. The danger and suspense ratchet up pretty quickly. George Bonneville, one of the most terrifying villains I have come across in children's literature, abuses his hyena daemon. The idea of abusing one's own daemon is as shocking as it is painful. There is quite a bit of violence as well as a rape in this story, making it more suitable to a teen audience. 

While I believe the book can be enjoyed by readers who haven't read His Dark Materials, I think the enjoyment of the prequel is heightened with knowing what its to come. To me, it's like watching the Star Wars episodes in a row starting at episode one. Fine, but not as originally written. But then, I still order my Chronicles of Narnia by the date written. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is always book one to me. 

ETA: Oops! I just reread my "audiobook review" and realized that I didn't mention the performance at all. Michael Sheen turned in a phenomenal performance. I was so absorbed that I had to remind myself to breathe often. Somehow, he managed to be coherent and understandable even when the characters were incoherent with fear. Outstanding, not to be missed.