Saturday, August 31, 2019

Taking Stock - August

Total Books: 40/252
Total Posts: 31
Total Reviews: 17

Debut: 8/11
Audio: 12/69
Picture Books: 5/90

The Good: Read A LOT! Reviewed a fair number. Getting a tad faster at writing them too.

The Bad: Nothing! It's all good!

The List:
213. Bouncing Back by Scott Ostler (8/1)(SLJ)(51)
214. Fever Year: the killer flu of 1918 by Don Brown (8/1)(52)
215. Dragons Eat Noodles on Tuesday by Jon Stahl (8/2) (53)
216. The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Khan (8/3)(54)
217. Twice Magic by Cressida Cowell (8/3)*(55)
218. Ask the Passengers by A.S. King (8/6)*(56)
219. Weirdo by Ahn Do (8/7)(57)
220. Weirdo 2 by Ahn Do (8/7)(58)
221. How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell (8/7)(59)
222. Technically, You Started It by Lana Wood Johnson (8/8)(60)
223. Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen McManus (8/10)(61)
224. Mr. Wolf's Class: Mystery Club by Aron Nels Steinke (8/11)(62)
225. Yay for Vacay by Flora Ahn (8/11)(63)
226. Even More Lesser Spotted Animals by Martin Brown (8/13)(64)
227. How It Feels to Float by Helena Fox (8/14)*(65)
228. Making Friends: back to the drawing board by Kristen Gudsnuk (8/15)(66)
229. Zen Happiness by Jon J. Muth (8/15)(66)
230. Will Giraffe Laugh? by Hilary Leung (8/15)(67)
231. I Need a Hug by Aaron Blabey (8/15)(68)
232. Misunderstood Shark: Friends Don't Eat Friends by Ame Dyckman (8/15)(69)
233. The Monster Hypothesis by Romily Bernard (8/16)(SLJ)(70)
234. Camp by Kayla Miller (8/16)(71)
235. The Rest of the Story by Sarah Dessen (8/17)(72)
236. Glitch by Sarah Graley (8/18)(73) 
237. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanthi (8/19)(74)
238. Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy (8/21)*(75)
239. Horses: the definitive catalog of horse and pony breeds by Scholastic (8/23)*(76)
240. Field Notes on Love by Jennifer E. Smith (8/24)(77)
241. Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds (8/24)(78)
242. Weird Little Robots by Carolyn Crimi (8/25)(79)

243. Queen of the Sea by Dylan Meconis (8/26)*(80)
244. The Past and Other Things That Should Stay Buried by Shaun David Hutchinson (8/26)*(81)
245. Picture This: how pictures work by Molly Bang (8/27)(82)
246. Roll with It by Jamie Sumner (8/27)*(83)
247. Allies by Alan Gratz (8/28)(84)
248. The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q. Rauf (8/29)(85)
249. Free Lunch by Rex Ogle (8/30)*(86)
250. Dear Sweet Pea by Julie Murphy (MG debut)(8/30)*(87)
251. Superman by Matt de la Peña (8/31)(88)
252. Wolfie Monster and the Big Bad Pizza Battle by Joey Ellis (8/31)(89)

Friday, August 30, 2019

Fact Friday: Picture This: how pictures work by Molly Bang

Image: Chronicle Books
Picture This: how pictures work by Molly Bang. 134p. Chronicle Books, August, 2016. 9781452135151. (Review of purchased copy.)

Yes, TMS Readers, this is the final Friday of our summer vacation. Enjoy the last few days of summer. Fact Friday features Picture This: how pictures work by Molly Bang. Bang happens to be one of my favorite author/ illustrators. You may have enjoyed some of her picture books. She won a Caldecott Honor three times—for When Sophie Gets Angry, Really, Really Angry; Ten, Nine, Eight; and the brilliant, wordless, The Grey Lady and the Strawberry Snatcher. 

Using accessible language, the story of Little Red Riding Hood and simple shapes, Bang helps the reader understand how artistic composition can evoke emotion. The square, slightly over-size format allows for plenty of white-space. It's uncluttered and helps readers focus. This is a book I will refer to often. If you are at all artistic, Picture This would be a great resource. 

Friday Memes: Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds

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

Image: Simon & Schuster
Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds. 194 p. A Caitlyn Dlouhey Book/ Atheneum Books for Young Readers/ Simon & Schuster, October 8, 2019. 9781481438285.

Publisher synopsis: Jason Reynolds conjures ten tales (one per block) about what happens after the dismissal bell rings, and brilliantly weaves them into one wickedly funny, piercingly poignant look at the detours we face on the walk home, and in life.

First Line(s): 
THIS STORY was going to begin like all the best stories. With a school bus falling from the sky.
     But no one saw it happen. No one heard anything. So instead, this story will begin like all the...good ones.
     With boogers.

Page 56: Had Stevie known that's what it would take to be one of Marcus's boys, he wouldn't have come yesterday. Or maybe he would have, but he would've said something. Would've stopped Marcus. Why didn't he say anything? Why didn't he stop it?

I absolutely adore Jason Reynold, the generous young man and the phenomenal writer that he is. 

Thursday, August 29, 2019

#tbt: Charlotte's Web by E.B. White

Image: BOT
Charlotte's Web by E.B. White. Unabridged audiobook narrated by Meryl Streep and a full cast. BOT, October 29, 2019. 

Whenever I attend a large conference with an exhibit hall, I always find the BOT booth to check it. Until recently, they sold audiobooks for twenty dollars a pop and I would always buy five. I was disappointed at Annual to find none for sale, but browsed the display of upcoming titles. The booth manager pointed me at the title they are most excited for. This one. My reaction was not what they expected. I asked,"How can this book be better narrated than by E.B. White?"

One of my favorite and most enduring family memories is of our car ride to ski in Vermont some thirty years ago. Everyone in the car was completely entranced by White's performance and story. It was magical. We went on to listen to his narration of Trumpet of the Swan and Stuart Little. It seemed a bit sacrilegious to attempt to remake perfection.

Still, Meryl Streep is the narrator. Her performance of The Velveteen Rabbit was simply stunning. Just thinking about it right now and my eyes brim with tears. So lovely.

This #tbt post is also a combo. The book isn't releasing until October, so I could've put it in Waiting on Wednesday; but it's here on #tbt. 

Charlotte's Web was written by E.B. White and illustrated by Garth Williams. It was published in 1952 and was named a Newbery Honor. Quick, what won the Newbery that year? This Honor book is a great example of how sometimes Newbery committees get things wrong. Charlotte's Web has endured. It was made into an animated musical starring Debbie Reynolds as Charlotte in 1973. In 2006, Dakota Fanning played Fern in a live-action release.  

You may notice that most cover images are linked back to the publisher of the work. Follow the link above to the BOT website and take a gander at the cast list. It is filled with many of my favorites. Generally, I don't love full-cast audio productions. It takes me awhile to get with the flow of constantly changing voices. I think full-cast productions turn the experience into something else—more play than narration. 

January LeVoy is Charlotte. Kirby Heyborne is Wilbur. MacLeod Andrews is Templeton! Other favorite narrators in the cast include Dion Graham, Lincoln Hoppe and Bahni Turpin. So yeah, I'll be setting aside my curmudgeonly prejudice and listening. I'm sure it will be lovely.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Waiting on Wednesday: Tunnel of Bones by Victoria Schwab

Image: Scholastic
Tunnel of Bones by Victoria Schwab. City of Ghosts series #2. 304 p. Scholastic Inc., September 3, 2019. 9781338111040.

Publisher synopsis: Trouble is haunting Cassidy Blake . . . even more than usual.

She (plus her ghost best friend, Jacob, of course) are in Paris, where Cass's parents are filming their TV show about the world's most haunted cities. Sure, it's fun eating croissants and seeing the Eiffel Tower, but there's true ghostly danger lurking beneath Paris, in the creepy underground Catacombs.

When Cass accidentally awakens a frighteningly strong spirit, she must rely on her still-growing skills as a ghosthunter — and turn to friends both old and new to help her unravel a mystery. But time is running out, and the spirit is only growing stronger. And if Cass fails, the force she's unleashed could haunt the city forever.

Phew! Luckily, I don't have long to wait for this release!

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Teen Tuesday and Audiobook Review: Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus

Image: Listening Library
Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus. Unabridged e-audiobook. ~10 hours. Read by Sophie Amoss and Kirby Heyborne. Listening Library, January, 2019. 9781984829092. Review of audiobook borrowed from public library. Hard cover courtesy of publisher.)

Twins, Ellery and Ezra, move in with their grandmother while their mother is in rehab. They hardly know her or the town in which her mother grew up. Maybe it's because their mom is an actress and they live in L.A. or maybe it's because twenty years earlier, Ellery's mother was a homecoming queen and her twin went missing. Five years ago, a homecoming queen was murdered at a horror-themed amusement park. No one was ever charged. 

As homecoming approaches, threatening grafitti, spray-painted in blood red is popping up all over town accompanied by grotesque hanging dolls. Then, one of the homecoming queen nominees goes missing. Adding to the tension, is also the unsolved mystery surrounding the hit and run death of a popular science teacher. 

Echo Ridge keeps its secrets but everyone has opinions. Circumstantial evidence points to Malcolm, the kid brother of the prime suspect from five years ago. Ellery, whose addiction to true crime reality television shows makes her rather fluent in detective-speak, has her own list of suspects.

The present tense dual narration ratchets up the tension in this suspenseful thriller. Know that I don't like the thriller/ mystery genre but force myself to read them for my students who do. I enjoyed this one as well as the author's debut, One of Us is LyingWell placed red herrings, likable narrators and an atmospheric setting add to the enjoyment. 

The present tense worked. Mostly. There were a few moments when I was taken out of the story. Color me mostly riveted though a tad disappointed by a late reveal. 

Narrators Moss and Heyborne paced their performances perfectly. The audio was a real pleasure. I listened over two days of prolonged, mindless choring. 

One of Us is Lying is a favorite at my school. I'm sure Two Can Keep a Secret will keep fans happy. 

Monday, August 26, 2019

Middle Grade Monday: City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab

Image: Scholastic
City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab. 290 p. Cassidy Blake series #1. Scholastic Press/ Scholastic Inc., August, 2018. 9781338111002. (Review of finished purchased copy.)

Middle Grade Monday features City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab on this penultimate Monday of summer vacay. My fans of horror know that I'm am a scaredy cat when it comes to the genre. But this book is so consistently checked out and student after student have told me that I MUST read it, I put on my big-girl pants and finally got to it. Wowsers! So good!

Cassidy Blake's parents are famous writers and "ghost hunters." They are more interested in studying the history behind the stories and the people who believe than believers themselves though. They are totally unaware that their own daughter can "cross the veil" and that her best friend, Jacob is "corporeally challenged." Cass has had this ability since her near-drowning the previous year. Now, she and her parents are headed to Edinburgh to film a television show about their work and little do her parents know, there are ghost all around them in this 900 year old city.

This suspenseful page-turner teems with atmosphere and tension. Thank goodness there's a good bit of humor to relieve the suspense. Cassidy and Jacob charm as best buds. The Raven in Red terrifies. The setting is so vivid, I want to visit Edinburgh now. And, I can't wait for Cassidy's next adventure. Check in this Wednesday to find out more.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Fact Friday: Horses: the definitive catalog of horse and pony breeds

Image: Scholastic
Horses: the definitive catalog of horse and pony breeds. 208 p. Scholastic Inc., February, 2019. 9781338360813. (Review of finished copy courtesy of publisher.)

It is the penultimate Friday of summer vacay and time for Fact Friday! If you love all things horses, then look no further than, Horses: the definitive catalog of horse and pony breeds by Scholastic. It's larger format provides plenty of room for the spectacular, crisp color photos of over 150 horse and pony breeds. You will learn about horses in history; horse anatomy; the differences in breed types—hotbloods, warmbloods and western. There's a section devoted to ponies and miniature horses as well as information about caring for them. Perfect for browsing. This is a book you will return to again and again. Don't you want to stroke that cover? Glossary and index at the back. Gorgeous and happy making.

Friday Memes: Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy

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

Image: HarperCollins
Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy. Skulduggery Pleasant series #1. 384 p. HarperCollins Publisher, May, 2018 (Re-issue). 978008248789.

Publisher synopsis: She's twelve. He's dead. But together they're going to save the world. Hopefully.

The iconic first book in the bestselling Skulduggery Pleasant series.

Stephanie's uncle Gordon is a writer of horror fiction. But when he dies and leaves her his estate, Stephanie learns that while he may have written horror it certainly wasn't fiction. Pursued by evil forces, Stephanie finds help from an unusual source – the wisecracking skeleton of a dead sorcerer…

First Line: Gordon Edgley's sudden death came as a shock to everyone—not least himself.

Page 56: 
     "Sometimes. I try not to depend on magic these days, I try to get by on what's up here." He tapped his head.
    "There's empty space up there."
     "Well, yes," Skulduggery said irritably, "but you know what I mean."
     "What else can you do?"
     "With magic. Show me something."
     If Skulduggery had eyebrows, they would most likely be arched. "What, a living skeleton isn't enough for you? You want more?"

This was a reread for me and I reviewed it on Wednesday. But I just love the series and thought the excerpts particularly enticing/ intriguing. 

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Picture Book Review: Cicada by Shaun Tan

Image: Scholastic
Cicada by Shaun Tan. unpgd. Arthur A. Levine Books/ Scholastic Inc., January, 2019. 9781338298390. (Review of finished copy courtesy of publisher.)

I can always count on Shaun Tan to cut close to the bone. Cicada stuns. In this picture book for older readers, Cicada is the ultimate company man. In clipped, terse sentences he tells of his seventeen years of loyalty and hard work, of staying late, of meticulous work, and heartbreakingly, of mistreatment by co-workers and bosses. Cicada is an outsider. He doesn't fit it and he knows it. Still, he goes about his work with dignity. When he retires, he receives nothing. He is just told to clean his desk while the boss looks on, presumably to make sure he doesn't steal anything. He has no home to go to and in one devastating illustration, he is shown heading up the stairs as he says, "It's time to say goodbye." 

The page turn reveals a wordless double-page spread of cicada standing on the roof ledge. See why this is a picture book for older readers? All is not lost though and the following wordless spreads allow the reader to let out the breath they were holding. 

Now, I have no great love for cicadas. Right now, as I sit on my deck writing this, I am nearly deafened by their "song." There is a carapace stuck to the screen of my deck door. I do give the buggers props though. Seventeen years of what, gestating (?) underground before emerging for the sole pursuit of mating and living for a scant few weeks of summer. That's determination.

Grey is the predominant color in these textured oil paintings. Cicada is bright green and wears a rumpled grey suit complete with ID badge. His cubicle is one of many in a grey-scape. This book draws you in while simultaneously repelling. You just can't look away. You might, as I did, realize you might not have been kind to Cicada were he your co-worker. He's ugly. He's odd. He talks funny. 

What a way into an introspective conversation with kids! There has been a clamor lately asking for lists of books to teach empathy. This one should be on it. Not to be missed. 

#tbt: Slob by Ellen Potter

Image: Penguin/ Philomel
Slob by Ellen Potter. 208 p. Philomel Books/ Penguin Young Reader's Group, May, 2009. 9780399247057. (Own.)

It isn't often that I get to use this word, but happy penultimate Thursday of the summer, TMS Readers! Yes, we have one more Thursday of summer before I get to see your smiling faces! I also get to use the word penultimate four more times! 

Thanks to Samaaya for recommending Slob by Ellen Potter for #tbt. Twelve-year-old Owen Birnbaum is the fattest kid in school and bullied about it, even by his gym teacher. Worse yet, someone is stealing the Oreos out of his lunch each day. Owen is also a genius inventor. He'd like to invent a television that shows the past as well as a device to catch his Oreo thief. Something happened two years ago that he needs to see. While this is a sad book, it is also laugh-out-loud funny. Owen is a character you won't soon forget. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

He's Ba-ack! Skulduggery Pleasant series by Derek Landy

Image: HarperCollins Publishers
Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy. 384 p. HarperCollins Publishers, May, 2018. 9780008248789. (Review of finished ppb courtesy of Harper360.)

Twelve-year-old Stephanie Edgley is standing at her uncle's graveside when she notices a figure wearing a trench coat, hat and scarf standing under a tree away from the crowd. This was curious on such a hot day. It got even curiouser when, later, she escapes to the study at her uncle's huge home to avoid all the disingenuous "mourners" to find herself face-to-face with the gentleman. It seems Stephanie's uncle spoke of her often to him. And, after a brief exchange of pleasantries, he disappears abruptly. 

Days later, she has to accompany her parents to the reading of her uncle's will where she learns that she has inherited the bulk of her uncle's fortune as well as his home. The strange man was also named in the will and Stephenie learns his name—Skulduggery Pleasant. Soon after, Skulduggery rescues Stephanie from an intruder. It is then she discovers that the trench coat, hat and scarf were disguising the fact that he is a skeleton!

It seems that the horror stories Stephanie's uncle wrote were inspired by true events. He and Skulduggery often worked together to solve mysteries and now, Skulduggery was going to find her uncle's killer. Stephanie does not intend to be left on the sidelines. She is in for one heck of a ride!

The voice captivates from page one. Stephanie is just a terrific main character— smart, brave, not easily rattled and quite, quite stubborn as Skulduggery quickly learns. She's also dryly hilarious. The banter between her and Skulduggery had me laughing out loud often. The action is fast, furious and quite violent as the bad guys here are called The Faceless and their leader, Serpine are after a scepter with which he will rule the world. So stakes are high.

It was so much fun to revisit Skulduggery Pleasant! I cannot recall when or how I came upon it. The book was originally published in 2007. I probably read a review. I was neither blogging or on Goodreads then; but the book stuck with me. I am pretty sure I read it with my ears, but might not have, though I did read books 2 - 5 with my ears. I had to send to the U.K. for books 3 - 5 as I couldn't find them here. The audiobooks, narrated by Rupert Degas, are spectacular. Degas' deadpan delivery and distinct character voices compliment this intense tale. 

Skulduggery Pleasant was Landy's debut and he followed it up with eight additional sequels followed by a second series. I have a bit of catching up to do! Readers who love horror and fantasy will gobble this up and be back for more, so make sure you have the rest of the series on standby.

Waiting on Wednesday: Bird & Squirrel: All or Nothing by James Burks

Bird and Squirrel: All or Nothing by James Burks. 128 p. Graphix/ Scholastic Inc., April 21, 2020. 

Publisher synopsis:
Squirrel helps Bird overcome his biggest challenge yet -- FAMILY!

The dangerous Horned Toad 500 cross-country race is coming up and Bird's father has always won it. But when his dad gets injured, Bird reluctantly joins the race to save the family honor. While dealing with the scorching desert heat and dirty tricks from another team, Bird and Squirrel are put to the ultimate test of endurance and sportsmanship. Along the way, the duo learns that, win or lose, having good friends and family will always get you to the finish line.

This Odd Couple is hilarious. Can't wait!

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Teen Tuesday and Audiobook Review: Technically, You Started It by Lana Wood Johnson

Technically, You Started It by Lana Wood Johnson. Unabridged e-audiobook. ~5 hours. Narrated by Katie Koster and Christian Barillas. Scholastic Audio, June, 2019. (Review of e-audiobook borrowed from public library. Finished copy courtesy of publisher.)

When I opened the hard cover of this epistolary novel, my heart sank a bit to find that it is told entirely in text messages. I don't love texting irl and my digital-immigrant eyes have trouble following long strings of text. Still, the premise intrigued. Luckily, I found it while browsing new e-audio additions in Libby. It was delivered to my phone after a brief hold. I found it quite entertaining. 

High school senior, Haley receives a text from a classmate in her AP history class regarding an upcoming assignment. He identifies himself as Martin Nathaniel Munroe II. The only problem is that there are two Martin Nathaniel Munroe IIs in her class and she hates one of them. Believing she is talking to the one she doesn't hate, Haley answers his question. He responds and the two begin to banter. Soon the bantering turns into full-fledged honest conversations as the two open up. Is it time to meet irl?

This was kind of fun. It was like eavesdropping. The challenge of the text format is that the only clues we have to these characters are what they say type to each other. There is no interior dialogue, no setting, and few extra characters weighing in to add dimension. All have is two smart teens getting to know each other in all its messy glory. 

Another challenge when texting or reading texts is the absence of emotional clues. Sure, we have emoticons, of which I am not fluent; but it can become tricky. The performance of these two new-to-me narrators helped with that. Haley was snarky and anxious and often hilarious. Martin was earnest. But then, perhaps the audio turned the book into a series of phone conversations? 

Either way, Technically, You Started It was an amusing experiment. I'm eager to book talk it when we return to school. I think my teens will love it. Not sure I'd jump into another text-only novel very soon, but interested in reading more from this debut author. 

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!

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Teen Tuesday: Are You Experienced? by Jordan Sonnenblick

Image: Macmillan
Are You Experienced? by Jordan Sonnenblick. 304 p. Feiwel & Friends/ Macmillan, September, 2013. 9781250025647. (Own).

Happy Tuesday TMS Readers! Thursday marks the 50th anniversary of The Woodstock Music Festival, which occurred on Max Yasgur's farm in Bethel, New York August 15 through 18, 1969. An estimated 400,000 people attended this outdoor event. Teen Tuesday features Are You Experienced? by Jordan Sonnenblick. 

Fifteen-year-old Rich Barber jumps at the chance to play his guitar at a protest rally even though his overly strict and overly protective parents wouldn't approve. What could go wrong? He gets busted in a raid along with his father and the two spend the night in jail. Of course, he's grounded for life. It also doesn't help that the anniversary of his uncle's death is coming up. He never met his uncle, but his dad becomes terribly depressed around the anniversary. 

But Rich is furious. He breaks into his father's locked cabinet and decides to play his dad's most prized possession. Jimi Hendrix's guitar. When he strikes that iconic chord, Rich finds himself dropped naked in the middle of a road in upstate New York where he is nearly hit by a car. Who's in the car? His fifteen-year-old father, eighteen-year-old uncle and his uncle's girlfriend and they are trying to get to the Woodstock Music Festival. 

Rich is a musician and student of Rock and Roll. He cannot believe he's actually at Woodstock! He knows the line-up of all the musicians and what they are going to play. Unfortunately, he also knows what's going to happen to his uncle in the near-1969-future. 

If you're a Sonnenblick fan, you already know about his signature combo of humor and depth and you will enjoy this YA offering. If you're a student of Rock and Roll history, you should definitely check this out. Sonnenblick vividly recreates the weekend.