Sunday, September 19, 2021

What's New?

"Stacking the Shelves" was a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews. It seems the blog is gone though, so I will just continue to post a "What's New? post whenever I receive new books. 

For Review: Nothing!

Purchased: I finally spent down some of those AZ gift cards!

Spy School Revolution by Stuart Gibbs. 384 p. Spy School #8. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, August, 2021. 9781534443792.

Publisher synopsis: In the eighth book in the New York Times bestselling Spy School series, Ben Ripley faces the Croatoan—a new evil organization that’s so mysterious, the only proof it exists is from the American Revolution.

With SPYDER defeated, Ben Ripley is looking forward to his life getting back to normal, or as normal as possible when you’re a superspy in training. Until someone bombs the CIA conference room next door. To Ben’s astonishment, the attacker is none other than Erica Hale, the spy-in-training he respects more than any other.

His mission: prove Erica is not a double agent working against the US, locate the fabled colonial-era insurgent group that’s blackmailing her, figure out what their devious plot is, and thwart it.

But this time, Ben finds himself up against opponents he has never encountered before: his own friends. How can he succeed when he doesn’t even know who he can trust?

This and the one below are going straight to school. I've only read the first Spy School book. It really is a series I do not need to keep up with because it sells itself. 

Spy School at Sea by Stuart Gibbs. 352 p. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, August, 2021. 9781534479432.

Publisher synopsis: In the ninth and latest addition to the New York Times bestselling Spy School series, Ben Ripley faces his nemesis, Murray Hill, on the high seas.

Thanks to the evidence Ben uncovered in his investigation of the Croatoan, the CIA has tracked his nemesis, Murray Hill, to Central America, where they believe he is boarding the world’s biggest cruise ship, The Emperor of the Seas, on its maiden voyage around the world.

His mission: Pose as part of a family, with Alexander and Catherine Hale as his parents, Erica as his sister, and his best friend Mike as his brother, to find out what Murray is plotting.

At first, it sounds exciting to have a mission on the most glamorous ocean liner on earth, but as usual, nothing goes according to plan. There is action, danger, and plenty of surprises as Ben and his team quickly find themselves in hot water.

Paradise on Fire by Jewell Parker Rhodes. Illustrated by Serena Malyon. 256 p. September 14, 2021. 9780316493833.

Publisher synopsis: From award-winning and bestselling author Jewell Parker Rhodes comes a powerful coming-of-age survival tale exploring issues of race, class, and climate change. 

Addy is haunted by the tragic fire that killed her parents, leaving her to be raised by her grandmother. Now, years later, Addy’s grandmother has enrolled her in a summer wilderness program. There, Addy joins five other Black city kids—each with their own troubles—to spend a summer out west.

Deep in the forest the kids learn new (and to them) strange skills: camping, hiking, rock climbing, and how to start and safely put out campfires. Most important, they learn to depend upon each other for companionship and survival. 

But then comes a devastating forest fire…

Addy is face-to-face with her destiny and haunting past. Developing her courage and resiliency against the raging fire, it’s up to Addy to lead her friends to safety. Not all are saved. But remembering her origins and grandmother’s teachings, she’s able to use street smarts, wilderness skills, and her spiritual intuition to survive.

Hazel Bly and the Deep Blue Sea by Ashley Herring Blake. 352 p. May, 2021. 9780316535458.

Publisher synopsis: Hazel Bly used to live in the perfect house with the perfect family in sunny California. But when a kayaking trip goes horribly wrong, Mum is suddenly gone forever and Hazel is left with crippling anxiety and a jagged scar on her face. After Mum's death, Hazel, her other mother, Mama, and her little sister, Peach, needed a fresh start. So for the last two years, the Bly girls have lived all over the country, never settling anywhere for more than a few months.

When the family arrives in Rose Harbor, Maine, there's a wildness to the small town that feels like magic. But when Mama runs into an old childhood friend—Claire—suddenly Hazel's tight-knit world is infiltrated. To make it worse, she has a daughter Hazel's age, Lemon, who can't stop rambling on and on about the Rose Maid, a local 150-year-old mermaid myth.

Soon, Hazel finds herself just as obsessed with the Rose Maid as Lemon is—because what if magic were real? What if grief really could change you so much, you weren't even yourself anymore? And what if instead you emerged from the darkness stronger than before?

What was in your mailbox this week? 

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Fact Friday: The Poet Slave of Cuba: a Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano by Margarita Engle

The Poet Slave of Cuba: a Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Sean Qualls. 

Happy Friday! Fact Friday features The Poet Slave of Cuba: a Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Sean Qualls. This blank verse biography is a compelling and difficult read. It tells the story of Juan Francisco Manzano, who was born enslaved in Cuba in the late 1700s. He was bright and had a way with words. He also had a photographic memory, which made him a bit of a pet or show pony for his mistress. When she died though, his new mistress beat him mercilessly. The spare, honest verse sheds light on the brutality of chattel slavery and also illuminates the resilience of those enslaved.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

#tbt: Mexican Whiteboy by Matt de la Peña

Mexican Whiteboy by Matt de la Peña. 256 p. Delacorte Press/ Random House Children's Books, August, 2008. 9780385733106. (Own)

Happy Thursday. #tbt features Mexican Whiteboy by Matt de la Peña. Biracial and sixteen, Danny feels like he doesn't fit in. His dad is gone and he's too dark for his white relatives and the kids at his prep school and too white for his Mexican relatives who live in National City. Add to that, the fact that he doesn't speak Spanish and while he's an ace pitcher, he's losing control of his game. Something's got to give. So his mother sends Danny to spend the summer between his junior and senior years with his father's extended family in National City.

Danny isn't always the most appealing character. He does make some questionable choices and there is one especially breathtakingly violent scene, but mature teen readers will be hooked, especially fans of baseball. The art and psychology of pitching are wonderfully conveyed here.

Mexican Whiteboy was published in 2008. It was Mr. de la Peña's second book, after his debut, Ball Don't Lie. In 2016, he won the Newbery Medal for his picture book, Last Stop on Market Street.

A note about covers. I usually try to find the original covers on the publisher website and link back to the page. In this case, only the newest cover iteration was available on PRH website. Though I see the appeal, I'm not a fan. There was another cover in between the original and #3. They are below.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Waiting on Wednesday: Cuba in My Pocket by Adrianna Cuevas

Happy Wednesday! Latinx Heritage Month is celebrated from 
Image: Macmillan

Cuba in My Pocket by Adrianna Cuevas.288 p. Macmillan Publishers, Sept. 21. 2021.

September 15 to October 15 each year. I try is keep the Daily Book Talks and books I choose for our collection fairly diverse all year long, but for the next thirty days, I will try to highlight more titles by Latinx authors.

Waiting on Wednesday features Cuba in My Pocket by Adrianna Cuevas. Here's the publisher's synopsis:
By the author of 2021 Pura Belpré Honor Book The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez, a sweeping, emotional middle grade historical novel about a twelve-year-old boy who leaves his family in Cuba to immigrate to the U.S. by himself, based on the author's family history.

“I don’t remember. Tell me everything, Pepito. Tell me about Cuba.”

When the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 solidifies Castro’s power in Cuba, twelve-year-old Cumba’s family makes the difficult decision to send him to Florida alone. Faced with the prospect of living in another country by himself, Cumba tries to remember the sound of his father’s clarinet, the smell of his mother’s lavender perfume.

Life in the United States presents a whole new set of challenges. Lost in a sea of English speakers, Cumba has to navigate a new city, a new school, and new freedom all on his own. With each day, Cumba feels more confident in his new surroundings, but he continues to wonder: Will his family ever be whole again? Or will they remain just out of reach, ninety miles across the sea?

Cuba in My Pocket releases on September 21. Happy reading!

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Teen Tuesday and Audiobook Review: Come on In: 15 Stories about Immigration and Finding Home edited by Adi Alsaid

Come on In: 15 Stories about Immigration and Finding Home edited by Adi Alsaid. Unabridged e-audiobook, ~6 hours, 57 minutes. Read by multiple narrators. Recorded Books, November, 2020. 9781705011140. (Review of e-audio borrowed from public library.)

Happy Tuesday! Teen Tuesday features Come on In: 15 Stories about Immigration and Finding Home edited by Adi Alsaid. Mr. Alsaid and other YA #ownvoices authors explore the hot button topic of immigration, belonging and home in this thoughtful and thought-provoking collection of short stories. In one story, two best friends out for a joy ride find themselves stopped at a random ICE checkpoint and their friendship is tested. In another, a high school student on her way to Geneva with her teacher and classmates, is pulled from the security line and interrogated by TSA. Many reflect on having to deal with the question, "Where are you really from?" even when they were born in the U.S. The authors and settings are diverse and reflect a variety of experiences and emotions. Teen readers will be enriched by reading this collection.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Middle Grade Monday and Arc Review: Playing the Cards You're Dealt by Varian Johnson

Playing the Cards You're Dealt by Varian Johnson. 320 p. Scholastic Press/ Scholastic Inc., October 5, 2021. 9781338348538. (Review of arc courtesy of publisher.)

Happy Monday! I hope you enjoyed the beautiful weather we had this weekend. I took Boo on some long walks down by the reservoir. I also did some garden clean-up and laundry. 

Middle Grade Monday features Playing the Cards You're Dealt by Varian Johnson. Ten-year-old Anthony Arnold Joplin, Ant for short, but please don't call him short, even though he is, is super-excited about the upcoming Spades tournament. He needs to live down his poor showing last year and live up to the Joplin name, as his brother won two years in a row and he wants to make his father and grandfather proud. His best friend and Spades partner, Jamal has been a bit on edge, quick with the trash talk and distant. When Jamal viciously teases Ant about his height in front of Shirley, the new girl at school, Ant starts to question their friendship. Then, it turns out, Shirley is an ace Spades player! And, she's cute too! Ant's friendship troubles aren't the only thing bugging him. His dad has been acting a bit weird lately.

This story features a winning main character, terrific secondary characters and lots of humor and depth. I should've finished this terrific novel a lot sooner, but school started and ate up my energy. I just loved this one. I am terrible at cards and still have no idea how to play Spades, but I adored Ant's devotion to the game through the family dynamics and the middle school dialogue were all spot-on. Ant is such an appealing main character. Growing up is hard and Varian Johnson depicts this with so much respect and authenticity. 

Playing the Cards You're Dealt is due out on October 5. You can sample some of Mr. Johnson's other books, including The Parker Inheritance, which won a Coretta Scott King Honor and his debut graphic novel,Twins while you wait.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Picture Book Review: Cat & Dog: a Tale of Opposites by Tullio Corda

Cat & Dog: a Tale of Opposites by Tullio Corda. unpgd. Red Comet Press, September, 2021. 9781636550022. (Review of finished copy courtesy of Blue Slip Media.)

I just started my 13th year as a middle school librarian after spending 10 years as a K-8 librarian. Even though #nevertoooldforpicturebooks is my motto, I admit I haven't been keeping up with concept books. 

I cannot recall a book of opposites that actually tells a story with a beginning, middle and end. Red cat and blue dog romp on plenty of white space and the text color cues young readers who is doing what. And while there are the expected opposites, there are a couple of surprises - "Oops!" and "Phew!" Then, there's a pair on the cover of the book under the jacket, which parents may not think to look under and which will create a dilemma for librarians who tape those jackets down!

Fun, fun, fun! This one's sure to be a favorite.

My apologies for the tardiness of this review. I read this book back in late July, just as my husband's condition was taking a turn for the worse. He died within the week and I have been trying to adjust to my new reality. My ability to concentrate, focus and be organized has really taken a hit. I hope Cat & Dog gets the readers it deserves.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Fact Friday: World of Glass: the Art of Dale Chihuly by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan

World of Glass: the Art of Dale Chihuly by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan. 64 p. Abrams Books for Young Readers, May, 2020. 9781419736810. (Review of finished copy borrowed from the public library.)

Happy Friday! Fact Friday features World of Glass: the Art of Dale Chihuly by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan. If you're an artist, art lover or student of art history, you should never miss a biography written by these two collaborators. 

Dale Chihuly is a world-renowned glassblower. His innovative style and use of shapes and color make his glass sculptures singularly unique. The authors trace the artist's life from his childhood in Tacoma, Washington through the loss of both his brother and father, through college to his professional life. The text is accompanied by many striking color photos of the artist in action and his pieces.

World of Glass is a handsome addition to any library.

Friday, September 10, 2021

What's new?

"Stacking the Shelves" was a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews. It seems the blog is gone though, so I will just continue to post a "What's New? post whenever I receive new books. 

For Review:

Image: Candlewick Press

Maybe... by Chris Haughton. Unpgd. Candlewick Press, September 2021. 9781526320247.

Publisher synopsis: Three little monkeys and their big monkey are sitting high on a branch in the forest canopy. “OK, monkeys! I’m off," says the big monkey. “Remember . . . Whatever you do, do NOT go down to the mango tree. There are tigers down there.” Mmm . . . mangoes! think the little monkeys. They LOVE mangoes. Hmm . . . Maybe . . . maybe they could just look at the mangoes. That would be OK, right? With vivid colors, bold shapes, and his trademark visual humor, Chris Haughton is back with a deliciously suspenseful cautionary tale about pushing boundaries—and indulging your more impish side (when nobody is looking).

A trio of misbehaving, mango-loving monkeys have a close call as the creator of Don’t Worry, Little Crab gives readers a taste of vicarious mischief.

Ducks Overboard: a True Story of Plastic in Our Oceans by Markus Motum.

Publisher synopsis: If a shipping container filled with 28,000 plastic ducks spilled into the Pacific Ocean, where would all those ducks go? Inspired by a real incident, this captivating and innovative look at the pollution crisis in our oceans follows one of the ducks as it is washed away on ocean currents, encountering plastic-endangered whales and sea turtles and passing through the giant floating island of marine debris known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. From the author-illustrator of the acclaimed Curiosity: The Story of a Mars Rover comes a highly accessible and graphically stylish picture book with an ultimately hopeful message about environmental issues and the state of our oceans. An end map documents the widely scattered journey of the real-life plastic ducks, showing where they have been found, as well as facts about the ways plastic is affecting various parts of the world.

Eco facts come to light as a plastic duck narrates this beautifully illustrated true story of thousands of bath toys that were lost at sea and swept to the four corners of the Pacific.

The Girl Who Could Fix Anything: Beatrice Shilling, World War II Engineer by Mara Rockliff. Illustrated by Daniel Duncan. unpaged. Candlewick Press, September 28, 2021. 9781536212525.

Publisher synopsis: Beatrice Shilling wasn’t quite like other children. She could make anything. She could fix anything. And when she took a thing apart, she put it back together better than before.

When Beatrice left home to study engineering, she knew that as a girl she wouldn’t be quite like the other engineers—and she wasn’t. She was better. Still, it took hard work and perseverance to persuade the Royal Aircraft Establishment to give her a chance. But when World War II broke out and British fighter pilots took to the skies in a desperate struggle for survival against Hitler’s bombers, it was clearly time for new ideas. Could Beatrice solve an engine puzzle and help Britain win the war? American author Mara Rockliff and British illustrator Daniel Duncan team up for a fresh look at a turning point in modern history—and the role of a remarkable woman whose ingenuity, persistence, and way with a wrench (or spanner) made her quite unlike anyone else. An author’s note and a list of selective sources provide additional information for curious readers.

This true story of a woman whose brilliance and mechanical expertise helped Britain win World War II is sure to inspire STEM readers and fans of amazing women in history.

Ada and the Galaxies by Alan Lightman and Olga Pastuchiv. Illustrated by Susanna Chapman. unpgd. Candlewick Press, September, 2021. 9781536215618.

Publisher synopsis: New York Times best-selling author Alan Lightman, in collaboration with Olga Pastuchiv, brings galaxies close in a stunning picture-book tribute to the interconnectedness of the natural world. Layering photographs taken from the Hubble telescope into charming and expressive art, illustrator Susanna Chapman zooms in on one child’s experiences: Ada knows that the best place for star-gazing is on the island in Maine where she vacations with her grandparents. By day, she tracks osprey in the trees, paddles a kayak, and hunts for shells. But she’s most in her element when the sun goes down and the stars blink to life. Will the fog this year foil her plans, or will her grandfather find a way to shine a spotlight on the vast puzzle of the universe . . . until the weather turns?

Stargazers rejoice! In his first book for children, renowned physicist Alan Lightman and collaborators, with help from the Hubble telescope, light up the night sky.

When We Say Black Lives Matter by Maxine Beneba Clarke. unpgd. Candlewick Press, September, 2021. 9781536222388.

Publishers synopsis: 

Little one, when we say Black Lives Matter,

we’re saying Black people are wonderful-strong.
That we deserve to be treated with basic respect,
and that history’s done us wrong. . . .

Darling, when we sing that Black Lives Matter,
and we’re dancing through the streets,
we’re saying: fear will not destroy our joy,
defiance in our feet.

In this joyful exploration of the Black Lives Matter motto, a loving narrator relays to a young Black child the strength and resonance behind the words. In family life, through school and beyond, the refrains echo and gain in power, among vignettes of protests and scenes of ancestors creating music on djembe drums. With deeply saturated illustrations rendered in jewel tones, Maxine Beneba Clarke offers a gorgeous, moving, and essential picture book.
In a powerful, poetic missive, award-winning author-illustrator Maxine Beneba Clarke celebrates the meaning behind the words Black Lives Matter.

Purchased: Nothing!

What was in your mailbox this week? 

Thursday, September 9, 2021

#tbt: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. 368 p. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, February, 2012. (Own)

Happy Thursday! As hinted at yesterday, #tbt features the original Aristotle and Dante story. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz was published in February of 2012. In addition to making quite a few year-end "Best" lists, in January of 2013, it was named a Printz Honor, won the Stonewall Award, the Pura Belpré Award, the LAMBDA Literary Award and was a finalist for the Amelia Elizabeth Award. The audiobook was narrated by Lin Manuel Miranda and the book has been optioned for film.

Aristotle and Dante are two Mexican-American teens living in El Paso, Texas in 1987. Ari lives with his parents, who are a bit distant. His sisters are grown and have moved out and his brother is in prison, though Ari does not know why. He isn't talked about. Ari meets Dante at the neighborhood pool and the two bond pretty quickly. Dante lives with his parents, who are openly affectionate with each other and Dante.

This gentle story explores each boy's issues as their friendship unfolds. Mature teen readers will enjoy this richly layered story.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Arc Review: Once Upon a Camel by Kathi Appelt

Image: Simon & Schuster

Once Upon a Camel by Kathi Appelt. Illustrated by Eric Rohmann. 326 p. A Caitlyn Dlouhy Book/ Atheneum Books for Young Readers/ Simon & Schuster, September 7, 2021. 9781534406438. (Review of arc courtesy of Blue Slip Media.)

Zada is an elderly camel who lives in the desert in Texas with her found family headed by kestrels, Pardo and Perlita. She's awakened abruptly one morning by a hysterical Perlita babbling about an approaching mountain. Turns out, that mountain is a dust storm, a haboob (Yes, I had to look that up), and it's heading toward the cottonwood tree the family have made their home. What's more, Pardo and Perlita have two unfledged chicks in their nest that need protecting! 

The frantic kestrel parents entrust the care of Beulah and Wims to Zada before they are blown upwards into the windstorm. The two chicks nestle down into the hair on top of Zada's head and the trio sets off to the Mission. While Zada has made the trip to the mission many times, never has she done so in the middle of a windstorm and never on such achy legs and certainly not with two fidgety chicks balanced on her head! But she is an honorable camel and a fine auntie and will not Pardo and Perlita down. But what to do to keep Wims and Beulah occupied? She tells them stories.

This is when the narrative flashes back from 1910, West Texas to Smyrna, Turkey in 1850. Do the math, Zada is old! Together with Asiye, Zada was born into the Pasha's racing stables and are destined to race for him. Under the tutelage of gentle Teodor, the two camel best friends thrive and strive to be their very fastest in service of the Pasha. How then, does Zada end up in America? You'll need to read this luscious, atmospheric story-within-a-story to find out. 

And, did you notice in the publication information up top that the book was illustrated by Eric Rohmann? This was the whipped cream and cherry on top of your favorite sundae! Here's a photo of one particularly arresting bit of art among many:

I'm a huge fan of Ms. Appelt. Her books are basically automatic purchases for me. I love her unhurried storytelling. It's rich and lyrical and perfect for reading aloud. She must've done a tremendous amount of research. I spent a fair amount of time looking up unfamiliar words, including the pronunciation of Asiye's name. Young readers' vocabulary will be enriched as Ms. Appelt steeps the reader in two countries/ cultures. 

There are moments of danger and suspense. There will be tears but there are many moments of humor, much of it laugh-out-loud. I closed the book with a satisfied sigh and cannot wait to reread it with my ears. 

Waiting on Wednesday: Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Waters of the World by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Waters of the World by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. 528 p. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, October 12, 2021. 9781534496194

Waiting on Wednesday features a sequel that I am looking forward to reading called Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Waters of the World by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. Since this is a sequel, I don't want to give too much away, but Aristotle and Dante are two characters I absolutely adore and I can't wait to visit with them again! Check out #tbt tomorrow for info about the first book! Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Waters of the World is due to release on October 12.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Teen Tuesday: Lost in the Never Woods by Aiden Thomas

Lost In the Never Woods by Aiden Thomas. Unabridged e-audiobook, ~12 hours and 13 minutes. Read by Avi Roque. Macmillan Audio, March, 2021. 9781250779557. (Review of e-audiobook borrowed from public library.)

Happy Tuesday and L'Shana Tovah to all who are celebrating the Jewish New Year. May you have a sweet start to, 5782, the new year.

Teen Tuesday features Lost In the Never Woods by Aiden Thomas. Eighteen-year-old Wendy Darling is driving home from her volunteer job at the local hospital one night, when a shadowy figure lands on the hood of her truck. She pulls over to the side of the road to investigate and discovers a boy lying on there. He appears to be unconscious, but he opens the bluest eyes Wendy has ever seen and he calls her by her name! She has no idea who this boy is, but she has been obsessively drawing him and a picture of a gnarled tree for the past five years-ever since she and her brothers disappeared into the woods. 

Wendy was the only to return after a six month absence, clutching an acorn and with no memory of who took her or what happened to her brothers. Wendy's memory loss has been frustrating for her, her parents, the police and the town, all of whom want closure, especially since two children went missing recently. The boy is named Peter and his shadow has something to do with the disappearance of the children. Peter begs for Wendy's help finding his shadow before any more children disappear. Wendy agrees and as they investigate, more children disappear, most having some connection to Wendy Darling.

This modern-day Peter Pan story just thrums with suspense and atmosphere. While there are subtle references to the J.M. Barrie classic, this twisty, menacing tale is wholly original, scary, occasionally humorous and delightful.

Lost in the Never Woods is perfect for fans of fairy tale updates/ retellings or any reader who enjoys a twisty mystery. I wasn't a huge fan of the audiobook, though. The narrator chose to pause at odd times fairly consistently through the book, frequently taking me out of the story. They also lacked nuance between different voices, often leading to confusion about who was speaking.

Monday, September 6, 2021

Middle Grade Monday: The Canyon's Edge by Dusti Bowling

The Canyon's Edge by Dusti Bowling. Unabridged e-audiobook, ~3 hours, 5 minutes. Read by Casey Holloway. Hachette Audio, September, 2020. 9781549134456. (Review of e-audio borrowed from public library.)

Happy Labor Day! I hope you've been enjoying your holiday weekend! Middle Grade Monday features The Canyon's Edge by Dusti Bowling. A number of my students are fans of the author's debut, Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus and its sequel, Momentous Events in the Life of a Cactus. The Canyon's Edge is very different. It's written in verse with sections of prose. The mostly present tense stream of consciousness and use of flashbacks are very effective in setting the mood and instilling tension.

Nora and her father head out to the Sonoran Desert to celebrate her birthday with a hike and climb into a slot canyon. Nora's father chose this celebration to be far away from civilization and danger, because a year earlier, the family were celebrating at a restaurant when a man dressed in cammo entered and began shooting, killing Nora's mother and wounding her father. Both are grieving, suffering from PTSD and have withdrawn from the world. Nora has been homeschooled, but is ready to return.

Unfortunately, the desert also contains danger. They are hiking in the slot canyon when a flash flood roars through. Nora's father pushes her up to safety, but is swept away by the strong current. Nora is left alone with no supplies and many decisions to make. Does she attempt to climb out of the slot and find their car? If so, what then? They were parked in the middle of the desert. Does she climb back down into the slot and follow the trail hoping to find her father? Luckily for Nora, she's an experienced hiker/ climber. Even without equipment, she knows to look out for danger, such as snakes and scorpions and, worst of all, another flash flood.

The audiobook was effectively performed, but I think I should've read this one with my eyes to appreciate the various breaks and poetry forms. 

The Sonoran Desert setting is vivid and tension runs high throughout this intense, edge-of-your-seat survival adventure that you won't want to miss.

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Fact Friday: Zion Unmatched by Zion Clark and James S. Hirsch (Again a day late!)

Zion Unmatched by Zion Clark and James S. Hirsch. 32 p. Candlewick Press, August, 2021. 9781536224184. (Review of finished copy courtesy of publisher.)

Happy Saturday! I'm stumbling out of the gate here with my posts this first week of school. I have managed to post to the learning platform at school and our public library's FB page, but not here! Apologies. We had quite the first day back at school on Thursday thanks to the remnants of Hurricane Ida.  As usual, Closter students rose to the occasion with good humor and energy, making my Fact Friday choice quite fitting. 

Fact Friday features Zion Unmatched by Zion Clark and James S. Hirsch. Students in sixth through eighth grades may remember viewing a video about elite athlete, Zion Clark during advisory last spring. Mr. Clark was born without legs and was quickly abandoned by his birth mother. He grew up in the foster care system, where he experienced abuse and neglect. Nevertheless, he taught himself to walk by using his hands and strove to do his best in school. He discovered wrestling in high school and also became a champion wheelchair racer and hand-cycler. Today, he's a motivational speaker and entrepreneur as well. This photo-essay/memoir is the first of a planned trilogy.

The full-color, slightly over-sized photos of Mr. Clark are striking. His energy and determination are evident in each. There are inspirational quotes sprinkled throughout, but unnecessary because the man is the inspiration. The photo-essay is a nice introduction to Mr. Clark. I am hoping that future volumes contain more detail about his life and what he did to overcome his challenges and thrive. 

Zion Unmatched will have wide appeal and is a recommended addition to any school, classroom or public library. 

Thursday, September 2, 2021

#tbt: Flipped by Wendell Van Draanen

Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanan. 212 p. Alfred A. Knopf/ Random House Children's Books, October, 2001. 9780375811746. (Own)

Happy first day of school with students to me! Getting to school this morning was a bit of a challenge what with flooded roads and downed trees. We had a delayed opening. I hope you all stayed dry last night! What a storm!

#tbt is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the publication of Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanan a month early. This comedy is told in the alternating points-of-view of Juli and Bryce. The first time Juli met Bryce back in second grade, she flipped for him. She's convinced that he is the bearer of her first kiss. Bryce's immediate reaction to Juli is just the opposite. Over the years between second and eighth grades, this remains the case until Bryce flips. For Juli. And she couldn't care less.

Flipped was named an SLJ Best Book and also made several State Award lists. It was adapted for film by Rob Reiner in 2010  and is one of my go-to "romances" for fifth and sixth graders!

A Late Waiting on Wednesday: Besties: Work It Out by Kayla Miller

Happy Thursday. I headed into school yesterday for my first day and forgot to post this here. I remembered to post it to our learning platform and the town public library FB page though. 

Waiting on Wednesday features Besties: Work it Out by Kayla Miller and Jeffrey Canino with illustrations by Christina Luu. There are lots of Click series fans at TMS and this book is a spin-off that's due out October 19. Here's the publisher synopsis:

Meet Beth and Chanda, two stylish best friends on their way to building their fashion empire! An unexpected business opportunity presents itself when the girls are asked to dogsit at Ms. Langford's luxurious house while she’s away, but it quickly turns into a disaster after an accident leaves one of Ms. Langford’s prized possessions in pieces! Now Beth and Chanda have to take on as many odd jobs as they can in order to afford a replacement. Car washing, book sales, interior decorating—you name it, Beth and Chanda are there! Will they be able to patch up their mistake in time?

New York Times best-selling author Kayla Miller and co-author Jeffrey Canino deliver a vibrant and honest story about middle school friendships and personal responsibility. Accompanied by Kristina Luu's fizzy, expressive art style, this graphic novel is the perfect companion to Olive's existing stories.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Teen Tuesday: Beasts of Prey by Ayana Grey

Beasts of Prey by Ayana Grey. 388 p. G.P. Putnam's Sons/ Penguin Young Readers, September 28, 2021. 9780593405680. (Review of arc courtesy of publisher.)

Teen Tuesday features a mesmerizing debut fantasy called Beasts of Prey by Ayana Gray. Sixteen-year-old Kofi lives in the city of Lkossa, which sits at the edge of the Greater Jungle, where the dreaded Shetani lives and feeds on unlucky citizens. Koffi is indentured to the Night Zoo due to a debt her now-dead father could not pay. She and her mother care for the dangerous beasts that are exhibited in the zoo. Ekon is the second son of a warrior/ hero who was slain by the Shetani years earlier. He is about to complete the final ritual before becoming a Son of the Six and warrior like his father and older brother.

Magic is outlawed in Lkossa and Koffi is brimming with it. Knowing that her life is at stake should this be discovered, she suppresses it, but the magic bursts free when those she loves are endangered. It seems that she has the power to tame the Shetani. The owner of the Night Zoo wants to add the Shetani to his menagerie, so he blackmails Koffi into hunting for it.

Ekon failed his ritual when he not only failed to kill the Shetani, but also allowed Koffi to escape. He will need to leave the temple in disgrace, but is offered a chance to redeem himself if he can capture the Shetani. He forms an uneasy alliance with Koffi and they head into the Greater Jungle where they become prey themselves.

Ms. Gray's world-building is vivid and immersive. Suspense is high from the outset and gradually ratchets up as pages fly by. Koffi and Ekon are flawed and instantly likable and Adiah, the occasional third POV, is mysterious. Fans of intricately layered fantasy might get whiplash from the plot twists. They will gobble this whole and pant for the next installment.

Beasts of Prey is due out September 28. Pre-order it! I can't wait to get it into my students' hands. Impressive debut!

Monday, August 30, 2021

Middle Grade Monday: President of the Whole Fifth Grade by Sherri Winston

President of the Whole Fifth Grade by Sherri Winston. Unabridged e-audiobook, ~5 hours, 18 minutes. Read by Joniece Abbott-Pratt. Tantor Media, September, 2020. 9781705251638. (Review of e-audio borrowed from public library.)

Middle Grade Monday features President of the Whole Fifth Grade by Sherri Winston. Brianna Justice has life goals. She intends on building a cupcake empire and becoming rich, but first, she needs to become president of her fifth grade class. Why? Her idol, baking celebrity, Miss Delicious credits becoming president of her own fifth grade as the secret to her success. Since Miss Delicious attended the very same school as Brianna, well, it's just meant to be! With the help of her two best friends, Brianna just knows the path to her presidency will be easy. Her plans are foiled when new girl, Jasmine Moon decides to run and seems to have some underhanded tricks up her sleeve.

I found this older title while browsing for a new audiobook in the Libby app. The story is humorous and the fifth grade drama is fairly realistic. Brianna lets her ambition get in the way of her friendship and not only makes some questionable choices, but becomes downright unlikable. Readers who enjoy school and friendship stories will enjoy this book.

Friday, August 27, 2021

What's New?

Summer break is winding down! Just a few more days to squeeze in some reading before heading back. 

For Review:

AfterMath by Emily Barth Isler. 266 p. Carolrhoda Books/ Lerner Publishing Group, September 7, 2021. 9781541599116.

Publisher synopsis: After her brother's death from a congenital heart defect, twelve-year-old Lucy is not prepared to be the new kid at school—especially in a grade full of survivors of a shooting that happened four years ago. Without the shared past that both unites and divides her classmates, Lucy feels isolated and unable to share her family's own loss, which is profoundly different from the trauma of her peers. 

Lucy clings to her love of math, which provides the absolute answers she craves. But through budding friendships and an after-school mime class, Lucy discovers that while grief can take many shapes and sadness may feel infinite, love is just as powerful.

Threads of Peace: How Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. Changed the World by Uma Krishnaswami. 326 p. A Caitlyn Dlouhy Book/ Atheneum Books for Young Readers/ Simon & Schuster, August, 2021. 9781481416788.

Publisher synopsis: Mahatma Gandhi and Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. both shook, and changed, the world, in their quest for peace among all people, but what threads connected these great activists together in their shared goal of social revolution?

A lawyer and activist, tiny of stature with giant ideas, in British-ruled India at the beginning of the 20th century.

A minister from Georgia with a thunderous voice and hopes for peace at the height of the civil rights movement in America.

Born more than a half-century apart, with seemingly little in common except one shared wish, both would go on to be icons of peaceful resistance and human decency. Both preached love for all human beings, regardless of race or religion. Both believed that freedom and justice were won by not one, but many. Both met their ends in the most unpeaceful of ways—assassination.

But what led them down the path of peace? How did their experiences parallel...and diverge? Threads of Peace keenly examines and celebrates these extraordinary activists’ lives, the threads that connect them, and the threads of peace they laid throughout the world, for us to pick up, and weave together.

Purchased: nothing!

What was in your mailbox this week? 

Fact Friday: River Stories by Timothy Knapman.


River Stories by Timothy Knapman. Illustrated by Ashling Lindsay & Irene Montano. unpaged. Egmont/ HarperCollins, June, 2021. 9781405292542. (Review of finished copy courtesy of publisher.)

Happy Friday TMS Readers! Fact Friday features River Stories by Thomas Knapman. Illustrated by Ashling Lindsay & Irene Montano. Travel the length of five major rivers of the world in this unique picture book. The text relates interesting facts, history and even mythology. An impressive gatefold opens to reveal gorgeous illustrations that depict the course and major landmarks of these rivers, making this book a terrific "impressionistic lesson" for young geographers.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Friday Memes: Playing the Cards You're Dealt by Varian Johnson

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

Playing the Cards You're Dealt by Varian Johnson. 320 p. Scholastic Press, October 5, 2021. 9781338780949.


Ten-year-old Anthony Joplin has made it to double digits! Which means he’s finally big enough to play in the spades tournament every Joplin Man before him seems to have won. So while Ant’s friends are stressing about fifth grade homework and girls, he only has one thing on his mind: how he’ll measure up to his father’s expectations at the card table.

Then Ant’s best friend gets grounded, and he’s forced to find another spades partner. And Shirley, the new girl in his class, isn’t exactly what he has in mind. She doesn’t understand that trash talking is part of the game. Or why Ant’s dad doesn’t want him playing with a girl. But she’s smart and tough and pretty, and knows every card trick in the book. So Ant decides to join forces with Shirley — and keep his plans a secret.

Only it turns out secrets are another Joplin Man tradition. And his father is hiding one so big it may tear their family apart…

First Line: The house always wins.

Page 56: Jamal cackled, "little Ant, still scared to talk to girls."

     "What's with you and all the little stuff," And said. "Lay off, okay?"

     "Come on, Ant. It's just a joke. Don't be so sensitive."

     Ant couldn't help but notice how it was "just a joke" when Jamal said stuff, but Shirley was a "dumb girl" when she did the same.

How much do you love that cover? I am mesmerized!

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

#tbt: East by Edith Pattou

East by Edith Pattou. 498 p. Harcourt Inc., 2003. 9780152045630. (own)

#tbt features East by Edith Pattou. East is a novel-length retelling of the Norwegian folk tale, East of the Sun, West of the Moon, which is a variation of the myth of Cupid and Psyche. 

This intricate and layered story requires a patient reader, but is fascinating. Rose was born to a superstitious mother, who insisted to her husband that she bear 7 children to represent all the points on a compass. When one died, her mother got pregnant with Rose and insisted she would be born facing east as the child who died had. Rose always felt like an outsider growing up and now her family is falling apart. When a huge white bear shows up with a proposition-her family will become healthy and wealthy if she comes away with him, Rose accepts instantly. 

She's carried away to a castle hidden in the mountains and, while she's relatively happy living with this mysterious creature, she is homesick. The bear allows her to visit her family for one month, but makes her promise not to speak to anyone of their arrangement. She promises, and when she tells her brother about it, her mother overhears. She insists that Rose return to the castle with a magic candle, so that she can gaze upon the creature at night. 

Once Rose does so, she learns that she has failed to help the bear break a curse. He becomes prisoner of a Troll Queen and disappears.

East was published in 2003 and was named a Top Ten Best Book for Young Adults in 2004. In 2018, West, a sequel, was published. 

While the cover of the e-book is nice enough and matches the cover of West, I absolutely love the original cover, with its embossed compass rose wrapping around the cover.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Waiting on Wednesday: Room to Dream by Kelly Yang

Room to Dream by Kelly Yang. 320 p. Front Desk Series #3. Scholastic Inc., September 21, 2021. 9781338621129.

Waiting on Wednesday features Room to Dream by Kelly Yang. This is the third installment of the Front Desk series. Both Front Desk and Three Keys are popular at my school. 

Here's the publisher's synopsis: Mia Tang is going for her dreams! 

After years of hard work, Mia Tang finally gets to go on vacation with her family — to China! A total dream come true! Mia can't wait to see all her cousins and grandparents again, especially her cousin Shen. As she roams around Beijing, witnessing some of the big changes China's going through, Mia thinks about the changes in her own life, like ...

1. Lupe's taking classes at the high school! And Mia's own plans to be a big writer are… stuck.

2. Something happened with Jason and Mia has no idea what to do about it.

3. New buildings are popping up all around the motel, and small businesses are disappearing.

Can the Calivista survive? Buckle up! Mia is more determined than ever to get through the turbulence, now that she finally has… room to dream!

Room to Dream releases on September 21.

Teen Tuesday: Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon

Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon. Unabridged e-audiobook, ~7 hours, 48 minutes. Read by Bahni Turpin. Listening Library/ Penguin Random House, June, 2021. 9781984833129. (Review of e-audiobook borrowed from public library.)

Happy Tuesday! I'm a bit late today posting because I was working on a big house project since early this morning! Teen Tuesday features Instructions for Dancing by Nicola Yoon. Ms. Yoon's last book, The Sun is Also a Star is a TMS fan favorite. Both that book and her debut, Everything, Everything were adapted for film, both of which my students adore. Instructions for Dancing is quite cinematic as well!

Evie Thomas swore off romance ever since her parents' divorce. The fact that she caught her dad cheating has also put a serious strain on their previously close relationship. She even went so far as to purge all her favorite romance novels from her home library. While donating the books to a little free library, Evie encounters a strange, old woman who insists she take a book called, Instructions for Dancing, and also seems to put a spell on her. Evie finds that whenever she spots a couple kissing, she has visions of the beginning, middle and end of their relationship. These visions seem to confirm her new cynical views on romance and Evie wants them to stop, so she tries to track down the old woman. The only clue inside the book is an address for La Brea Dance Studio.

There, she meets X, short for Xavier, a handsome musician who is staying with his grandparents while he and his band try to make it in L.A. His grandparents own the studio. Evie doesn't find answers at the dance studio, but she does allow herself to be talked into a free dance lesson by Fifi, the fierce and opinionated dance instructor and, eventually into an amateur ballroom dance competition with X as her partner.

Will X's "say yes to everything" attitude rub off on Evie? Her sister and mother seems to have moved on after the breakup. Can Evie? This smart romance asks some deep questions and features many likable characters, witty dialogue and swoony dancing. Fans of Ms. Yoon's work will not be disappointed.

Monday, August 23, 2021

Middle Grade Monday: Too Bright to See by Kyle Lukoff

Too Bright to See by Kyle Lukoff. Unabridged e-audiobook, ~ 4.5 hours. Narrated by Jax Jackson. Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group, April, 2021. 9780593346310. (Review of e-audio borrowed from public library.)

Happy Monday! How did everyone in the northeast fare with all that rain from Henri? It was the perfect day to read yesterday and it looks like today will be more of the same. I finished a fantastic YA debut fantasy yesterday and plan on finishing a debut contemporary YA today.

Middle Grade Monday features Too Bright to See by Kyle Lukoff. Mr. Lukoff's middle grade debut is difficult to classify. This first-person narrative is part ghost story and part coming-of-age story. It's pace is leisurely, thoughtful and very relatable. First off, Bug lives in a haunted house and the family is fine with that-well, Uncle Roderick is, but Bug's mother? She's skeptical. Bug totally buys in. Now, Bug thinks Uncle Roderick's ghost might be lingering after he died of cancer. Why? What's he trying to say?

Middle school is looming and Bug's bff, Moira, wants to try make-up and make-overs to make a fresh start. Bug avoids mirrors like the plague and isn't interested in make-up or boys. Obviously, this causes friendship friction. Moira has a lot of other friends, but Bug, not so much. What is it about Bug that makes it so hard to fit in?

I'm being purposefully vague here in an effort to preserve the surprises in this satisfying tale. I'm eager to hear what my students think when I add it to our collection. 

Friday, August 20, 2021

What's New?

"Stacking the Shelves" was a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews. It seems the blog is gone though, so I will just continue to post a "What's New? post whenever I receive new books. 

For Review:

What the Animals Saw by Louise Greig. Illustrated by Nicola O'Bryne. unpgd. Red Shed/ HarperCollins Publishers, June, 2021. 9781405287821.

Publisher synopsis: What if you could see through the eyes of an animal?

Dive, splash, soar and prowl through the book as you see the world through the eyes of some of the world’s most amazing animals. Take in the view as you soar like an eagle, gaze through the eyes of a prowling tiger, become part of a protective elephant herd, and much, much more.

This intimate look at the world through the eyes of some of the world's most amazing creatures will take you from the snowy lands of Antartica to the heat of an African desert. Perfect for children aged 3 years and up, this is a gentle introduction to nature which will encourage questions and open up discussions.

Discover the world of animals in a whole new light.

Purchased: Nothing!

What was in your mailbox this week?

Fact Friday and Arc Review: Revolution in Our Time: the Black Panther Party's Promise to the People by Kekla Magoon

Revolution in Our Time: the Black Panther Party's Promise to the People by Kekla Magoon. 400 p. Candlewick Press, September 28, 2021. 9781536214185. (Review of arc courtesy of publisher.)

Fact Friday features Revolution in Our Time: the Black Panther Party's Promise to the People by Kekla Magoon. Teen readers wishing to learn the history of the Black Panther Party will find an accessible narrative in these 400+ pages. Ms. Magoon provides important historical context, linking the harsh and inhumane treatment of slaves to the Jim Crow laws that severely limited the activities of Black people once slavery was outlawed, through the Civil Rights movement to the formation of the Black Panther Party in 1966 in response to police violence against Black people.

The imagery projected in the media and by law enforcement, including the FBI, was one of militancy and menace, belying the fact that the foundational tenets of the organization were to provide food, education and health care to the community. They armed themselves for protection, not intimidation. Ms. Magoon breaks up the meticulously researched narrative with side stories that highlight various leaders, many of whom were imprisoned or killed. I was riveted.

The book design is pleasing as well, with plenty of white space and black and white, well-captioned photos sized to maximize effect. 75+ pages of back matter includes more information about the key people in the movement, a timeline, a glossary, books and websites for further reading, 32 pages of source notes, an extensive bibliography, image credits, copyright acknowledgements and an index, making this a mentor text for young researchers.

Revolution in Our Time
belongs in every school and public library. Adults would do well to read it too. I'm sure that many are not aware of this history. I admit that I was, only because I read Ms. Magoon's debut, The Rock and the River, which planted the seed for this book, and Rita Williams-Garcia's 2010 novel, One Crazy Summer. 

Revolution in Our Time is not due out until September 28, so please put it on your radar. I expect it will make many year-end "Best" lists and there's lots of room on that striking cover for well-deserved awards.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

#tbt: Notes from a Liar and Her Dog by Gennifer Choldenko

Notes from a Liar and Her Dog by Gennifer Choldenko. 240 p. Puffin Books/ Penguin Young Readers, 2001. (Own)

Happy Thursday! I get to see my students two weeks from today! So far, it looks like I will be back in the library teaching my sixth grade cycle class and seeing the other grades as a "special." Fingers crossed.

#tbt features Notes from a Liar and Her Dog by Gennifer Choldenko. Twelve-year-old Antonia, "Ant," McPherson is a middle child stuck between two perfect sisters in a family that moves a lot with parents who do not understand her. Ant comforts herself with her elderly dog, Pistachio, her chicken-loving best friend, Harrison and by pretending she's adopted. She even writes notes to her "real" parents. And she lies. There's a lot of humor in this first-person narrative. Ant is bright and prickly and difficult to like even though she yearns to be loved and accepted.

Notes from a Liar and Her Dog was published in May of 2001 and was Ms. Choldenko's middle grade debut. It was named a School Library Journal Best Book of 2001 and was nominated for a number of state awards. Its audiobook was named an ALA Notable Recording.