Thursday, March 31, 2022

#tbt: Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle

Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle. 288 p. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, February, 2013. 9781442446892. (Own.)

#tbt is usually reserved for books that published ten or more years ago, but I am making another exception for Better Nate Than Ever by Tim Federle. Nate Foster is an eighth grader who lives in Jankburg, Pennsylvania, far away from the lights on Broadway, but he has big Broadway dreams. Unfortunately, his family focuses more on football and his jock older brother. Luckily, Nate has a BFF named Lizzie, who shares his passion for musicals and jazz hands. When she discovers that there are open auditions for "ET: the Musical," she and Nate concoct a plan for his to hop a bus to NY, audition and return to Jankburg, hopefully with the part, hopefully with no one the wiser.

Mr. Federle knows Broadway, having been a dancer in a few musicals as well as NFL halftime shows. His debut is hilarious as well as heartwarming as he subtly weaves in themes of acceptance and issues such as sibling rivalry, dysfunctional families, bullying and best friendship.

Better Nate Than Never was published in 2013 and was named a YALSA Best Book as well as an ALA Notable. It also won a Golden Kite (YA) Award and made the Rainbow List. The audio version of the book, narrated by the author won an Odyssey Honor. A year later, the sequel, Five, Six, Seven, Nate! was published. Mr. Federle visited TMS while on tour for that book. The Nate Trilogy came to an end in 2018 with the publication of Nate Expectations.

Mr. Federle moved on from writing for children and young adults when he wrote the libretto for the Broadway production of Tuck Everlasting. After that, he was a co-screenwriter of the movie, Ferdinand. He then became involved with High School Musical. He got to adapt his debut for Disney and also directed it. It debuted in select theaters on March 15 and starts streaming on Disney+ tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Waiting on Wednesday: Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor by Xiran Jay Zhao


Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor by Xiran Jay Zhao. 352 p. Margaret K. McElderry Books/ Simon & Schuster, May 10, 2022. 9781665900706.

I just learned about this new series at a publisher preview yesterday and it's one of many coming from Simon & Schuster that I am looking forward to reading.

Publisher synopsis: Percy Jackson meets Tristan Strong in this hilarious, action-packed middle grade contemporary fantasy that follows a young boy as he journeys across China to seal the underworld shut and save the mortal realm.

Zachary Ying never had many opportunities to learn about his Chinese heritage. His single mom was busy enough making sure they got by, and his schools never taught anything except Western history and myths. So Zack is woefully unprepared when he discovers he was born to host the spirit of the First Emperor of China for a vital mission: sealing the leaking portal to the Chinese underworld before the upcoming Ghost Month blows it wide open.

The mission takes an immediate wrong turn when the First Emperor botches his attempt to possess Zack’s body and binds to Zack’s AR gaming headset instead, leading to a battle where Zack’s mom’s soul gets taken by demons. Now, with one of history’s most infamous tyrants yapping in his headset, Zack must journey across China to heist magical artifacts and defeat figures from history and myth, all while learning to wield the emperor’s incredible water dragon powers.

And if Zack can’t finish the mission in time, the spirits of the underworld will flood into the mortal realm, and he could lose his mom forever.

Monday, March 28, 2022

Teen Tuesday: Huda F are You? by Huda Fahmy

Huda F are You? by Huda Fahmy. 188 p. Dial Books for Young Readers/ Penguin Young Readers Group, November, 2021. 9780593324301. (Review of finished purchased copy.)

Happy Tuesday! It's still winter here in NJ, a brisk 24 degrees when I took the hounds out for their morning trot at 5AM. The title of our Teen Tuesday feature sure is attention-grabbing, so hang on to your hat! 

Teen Tuesday features Huda F Are You? by Huda Fahmy. Did you see what the author did there? The main character in this fictionalized graphic novel memoir is Huda Fahmy, Huda F. is an Egyptian-American. She is also a hijab-wearing Muslim who has recently moved from a town in Michigan, wear she was the only hijabi, to Dearborn, where she is one of so many, that there are hijabi cliques, like the athletes, gamers and fashionistas. As the second of five daughters, she knows exactly who she is in her family, the smart one, but in her new high school? Not so much, so she experiments with personas with often humorous but embarrassing results. Sadly, Huda still deals with micro-aggressions and outright hostility, especially from her English teacher, who thinly hides her racism.

The art is simple and clean with lots of white space and easy to follow panels. Readers are sure to root for Huda F. as she finds herself. I'd love to read a sequel.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Middle Grade Monday: Kelcie Murphy and the Academy for the Unbreakable Arts by Erika Lewis

Kelcie Murphy and the Academy of Unbreakable Arts by Erika Lewis. 336 p. Starscape/Tom Doherty Associates/ Macmillan Publishers, March 1, 2022. 9781250208262. (Review of finished copy courtesy of publicist.)

Happy Monday! I hope you had a wonderful weekend. Winter has returned! I had hoped to get some serious garden clean up done over the weekend, but it was intermittently rainy, very windy and raw. I ended up doing lots of indoor chores, which was just as productive, but not what I hoped.

Middle Grade Monday wishes a belated book birthday to Kelcie Murphy and the Academy for the Unbreakable Arts by Erika Lewis. Kelcie Murphy is trying to stay below the radar. She's on a bus to a field trip to a museum in Boston. She's new to this school having changed foster homes yet again. Her caseworker is losing patience with her as well. 

Eight years earlier, she was saved from drowning in Boston Harbor, presumed to be an orphan and has been bouncing around in the foster care system ever since. Now twelve, she's used to the petty cruelty of her classmates at each new school, she's even used to being accused of something she didn't do, so when she's accused of theft at the museum and a policewoman wants to question her, she's not surprised. She is though, when instead of leaving the museum, she is taken by the cop and her caseworker into a subbasement of the museum and they both turn into winged fairy creatures with a mission-to test Kelcie to see if she is the heir. Heir to what? 

She's sucked into a portal through a tree, seemingly led there by the charm on her necklace. She ends up in the Land of Summer, where the inhabitants are at war with the Land of Winter and young people are flocking to audition for entrance into the Academy for the Unbreakable Arts to train to become warriors under the leadership of the legendary Celtic warrior, Scáthach.

The action is nearly non-stop in this series beginner. Kelcie is fearless, but doubtful. She also doesn't know who to trust. She fears she is different, but wants desperately to fit in. Readers who enjoy fantasy like Harry Potter or The Iron Trials will love this. 

The back matter is comprised of a glossary of names and terms in Celtic mythology, which I found helpful. I discovered after reading with my eyes that there is an audiobook available. I might reread it with my ears to hear the correct pronunciations of the Celtic names! If you have readers in your life who can't get enough fantasy, this is the book for you. I already have a waiting list for it since posting it to my Daily Book Talk on our school's learning platform.

ABOUT ERIKA LEWIS: Erika Lewis grew up in Alexandria, Virginia, spent summers with her grandparents in Worcester, Massachusetts, and currently lives in Los Angeles, California. With a passion for storytelling set in magical places, she spends as much time as she can traveling. When she’s not writing, she can generally be found scribbling notes in a blank book while wondering through abandoned buildings, all kinds of museums, and graveyards. A graduate of Vanderbilt University, her list of credits straddles the comics and novel space, including Game of Shadows from Macmillan’s Tor Books, Firebrand and Acursian from Legendary Comics, #Guardian from Awesome Media & Entertainment, and The 49th Key from Heavy Metal Publishing. The Color of Dragons (HarperCollins), her debut novel for young adults, publishes Fall 2021.

Visit her website at

Twitter: @ErikaElyLewis

Facebook: @TheErikaLewis

Instagram: @erikaelylewis

TikTok: @erikalewisauthor

Goodreads: Erika Lewis | Goodreads

Friday, March 25, 2022

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:

Meant to Be by Jo Knowles. 218 p. Candlewick Press, March 15, 2022. 9781536210323.

Publisher synopsis: Ivy loves living in Applewood Heights. The family’s apartment is tiny, and her older sister, Rachel, won’t stop grumbling about sharing a room after their old house was lost to foreclosure. But for the first time, Ivy has friends. Lucas and Alice live close by, and every week all three watch their favorite cooking show and practice baking together (even if Ivy has to find creative substitutes for the pricey ingredients). But Ivy is a worrier, and this summer there’s plenty to be anxious about. Her parents can’t wait to move to a bigger, nicer place, which is the last thing Ivy wants. Then Alice receives devastating news, and Ivy somehow manages to say just the wrong thing. Will Alice ever stop being mad at her?

Ivy finds much-needed reassurance, and a boost of confidence, when she starts working with the building superintendent, who teaches her how to fix things. Ivy has a natural talent, but she comes to realize that some things—like hurt feelings—are harder to fix than others. Luckily, Ivy is pretty good at making up her own recipes as she goes along. In an honest, hopeful companion to Where the Heart Is, Jo Knowles puts quirky, tenacious Ivy in the spotlight—as she tries to figure out exactly where she’s meant to be.
In a companion to Where the Heart Is, the lens turns to younger sister Ivy as she fields the joys and pitfalls of new friendship, hones her passion for baking, and resists the idea of change.

Purchased: nothing!

What's in your mailbox this week?

Fact Friday: I'm a Neutrino: Tiny Particles in a Big Universe by Dr. Eve M. Vavagiakis and illustrated by Ilze Lemesis

I'm a Neutrino: Tiny Particles in a Big Universe by Dr. Eve M. Vavagiakis and illustrated by Ilze Lemesis. 40 p. Meet the Universe Series. MIT Kids Press/ Candlewick Press, March 22, 2022. 9781536222074. (Review of finished copy courtesy of publisher.

Fact Friday features I'm a Neutrino: Tiny Particles in a Big Universe by Dr. Eve M. Vavagiakis and illustrated by Ilze Lemesis. Do you ever contemplate the universe and feel very small? It seems so huge, so vast, so incomprehensible. No wonder ancient peoples were inspired to spin tales. Scientific discovery is no less fascinating than mythology. What is sort of startling is contemplation of the reverse-the microscopic "universe." It seems just as large and awe-inspiring. Being small does not mean being unimportant. Neutrinos are so tiny we neither see them nor measure them, but scientists know they are all around us and our galaxy, the Milky Way galaxy is comprised of trillions upon trillions of them. 

Dr. Vavagiakis is a physicist and she explains the importance of neutrinos in pleasing rhyme from a mischievous neutrino's POV. Digitally created images add to the fun and help budding scientists imagine these teensy, yet important building blocks of the universe. Back matter contains thumbnails of each spread with further explanation. 

This is definitely a picture book that can span the age groups and serve as an effective impressionistic lesson in a variety of science classes! It is beguiling and one I find myself returning to reread. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

#tbt: Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Graceling by Kristin Cashore. 471 p. HarperCollins Publishers, October, 2008. 9780152063962. (Own.)

#tbt features Graceling by Kristin Cashore. Ms. Cashore burst on the YA scene in 2008 with her dazzling debut fantasy. Katsa and Po's story and the vivid world building of the Seven Kingdoms captivated fantasy lovers, who panted for the sequel. Graceling was named to several state awards lists as well as the Amelia Bloomer Lists, Booklist Editors' Choice, School Library Journal Best Books and YALSA Best Books for Young Adults. 

If you love high fantasy and stories of court intrigue, you will love Graceling. I forgot how gorgeous the cover of the hard cover book was and I just love how Gareth Hinds incorporated the knife on the cover of his graphic novel adaptation. Happy reading!

Waiting on Wednesday: Enemies by Svetlana Chmakova

Image: Yen Press

Enemies by Svetlana Chmakova. 256 p. Berrybrook Middle School series #5. JY/ Yen Press, September 27, 2022. 9781975312725

Happy Wednesday TMS Readers! I am so excited about today's Waiting on Wednesday title! The Berrybrook Middle School series continues with Enemies this September! It releases on my birthday, no less, and I can't think of a better present. Awkward, the first book in this abecedarian series was published in 2015 and immediately became a TMS favorite thanks to its terrific art and relatable themes of friendship and middle school drama. Brave followed two years later and Crush was published in 2018. Diary is not part of TMS library collection because it's basically an illustrated diary meant for the reader to use.

Publisher synopsis of Enemies: Felicity’s sure she’s going to do something big. Exactly what is still a mystery, but she’ll figure it out. Her sister, Letty, teases Felicity that she never finishes stuff, but that’s just because Letty is so perfect. Still, life is good with plenty of friends -- drawing with the art club and playing games with her buddies keep her busy. But when she decides to join a contest to show Letty that she CAN get things done, Felicity begins to wonder if friends becoming enemies is easier that she thought. Are they really enemies, though…? What does it even mean to be enemies? And...who is it that she needs the most on her side...?

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Teen Tuesday: Graceling Graphic Novel by Kristin Cashore and adapted by Gareth Hinds

Graceling Graphic Novel by Kristin Cashore, adapted and illustrated by Gareth Hinds. 272 p. Clarion Books/ HarperCollins Publishers, November, 2021. 9780358250470. (Review of finished copy borrowed from public library.)

Happy Tuesday, or trying to make it so. Today would've been my 37th anniversary, so it has been a hard one. Teen Tuesday features Graceling Graphic Novel by Kristin Cashore, adapted and illustrated by Gareth Hinds. Children with two different eye colors in the land of the seven kingdoms are said to be graced and they are observed carefully until their grace reveals itself. Sometimes it's harmless, maybe even useless; but sometimes it's powerful, maybe even deadly. Katsa was eight and living under the protection of her uncle, King Randa, when her grace revealed itself. A man in her uncle's court grabbed her, so she threw out her hand to protect herself and accidentally killed him. Killing was Katsa's grace and her uncle trained her to be his assassin/ enforcer. Katsa hated doing his bidding, but she was bound to him and so, she and her cousin and the king's spymaster formed a secret group to council to counteract injustice.

They are on a rescue mission to recover a kidnapped king when Katsa meets her match as a fighter. She has a lot of trouble besting him and is intrigued. He too has mismatched eyes and a secret.

Fans of this fantasy series starter (tune in on Thursday) will love this graphic novel adaptation. The art is absolutely gorgeous! Mr. Hinds has translated Ms. Cashore's world building vividly. The fight sequences hum with energy and the landscapes are breathtaking.

Monday, March 21, 2022

Middle Grade Monday and Arc Review: Wave by Diana Farid. Illustrated by Kris Goto

Wave by Diana Farid. Illustrated by Kris Goto. 315 p. Cameron Kids/ Abrams Books, March 29, 2022. 9781951836580. (Review of arc courtesy of Blue Slip Media.)

Happy Monday! I hope you enjoyed the weekend and got outside as much as possible. Spring has sprung! The trees are budding and sleepy perennials are pushing their way up. Last week, my daffodils grew four inches overnight! I started my yard clean-up while waiting for son #1 to arrive with his wife and daughter. It was such a pleasure to visit with them, a nice distraction from anticipating Tuesday, which will be the first wedding anniversary I will "celebrate" alone. Grief sure does come in waves.

Middle Grade Monday features Wave by Diana Farid. It is 1987 in Southern California. The only plans Ava, a thirteen-year-old Persian-American has for the summer between eighth grade and high school are surfing, surfing and more surfing with her bestie, Phoenix. Her single-mother, who is a physician has signed Ava up as a volunteer in her hospital in the hopes that Ava will want to study medicine. Ava has no desire to work in health care and, it turns out, faints at the sight of blood. Still, dutiful daughter that she is, she goes and connects with a patient who asks her to read the Persian poet, Rumi to him.

Meanwhile, Phoenix's lymphoma has returned adding more turmoil to the anxiety roiling in Ava, who is also coping with OCD as well as missing the father she never really new and balancing two cultures, never truly fitting in either one.

This accessible verse novel is written in both blank and concrete poetry. Lovely black and white spot illustrations add to the mood. The verse rises and falls rhythmically, like waves as Ava's story unfolds. Persian words are woven into the poems with explanation and one even describes the labor of love that was creating a mix-tape, something contemporary teens in this age of streaming music and Spotify playlists may have trouble picturing.

The poems roll in like waves, some large, some small, some gently, some forceful enough to make the reader gasp. Wave is a quick, intense read that satisfies. If you love verse novels, surfing, or sad stories, Wave is the book for you. It releases on March 29 and would be an awesome addition to any library serving tweens and teens. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

#tbt: Spy School by Stuart Gibbs

Spy School by Stuart Gibbs. 304 p. March, 2012. 9781442421820. (Own.)

#tbt features Spy School by Stuart Gibbs. Regular readers of The Daily Booktalk will feel like it's "deja-vu all over again" this morning as the graphic novel adaptation of Spy School, featured on Monday, uses the same iconic cover. It was ten years ago on March 6, that Ben Ripley burst on the scene as our favorite hapless spy-in-training, and yesterday, I featured the tenth, or X, installment, which is due out in early September. 

Stuart Gibbs is very popular at my school, and for good reason. His books are fast-paced, engaging and quite funny. While all his books circulate briskly, his Spy School series is generally checked out for the entire school year. I start the year with a full shelf, and very quickly it looks like this:

Until all the books are returned at the end of the school year.

Hear's to ten more years of Spy School!

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Waiting on Wednesday: Spy School: Project X by Stuart Gibbs

Spy School: Project X by Stuart Gibbs. Spy School # 10. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, September 6, 2022.

Stuart Gibbs' books are incredibly popular at my school, but the Spy School series tops my students' faves. I'm partial to the FunJungle series myself. The tenth book, aptly titled, Project X, is due to release on September 6. I am sure that there will be students who pre-order it and return to school for our first day of school having read it already.

Publisher synopsis: In the tenth book in the New York Times bestselling Spy School series, Ben Ripley races against time and across state lines—by car, train, boat, and plane—to avoid his new cyber enemies and track down Murray Hill.

Ben Ripley’s longtime nemesis, Murray Hill, has put a price on Ben’s head and accused him of being at the center of a conspiracy on the internet. Now Ben finds himself in his greatest danger yet, on the run from both assassins and conspiracy theorists.

Ben must find Murray before his machinations catch up to Ben—but with so much at stake, even some of Ben’s most trusted friends might not be at the top of their game, leaving Ben to be tested like never before.

Teen Tuesday and Audiobook Review: Lore Alexandra Bracken

Image: Disney

Lore Alexandra Bracken. Unabridged e-audiobook, ~16 hours. Read by Fryda Wolff. Disney Hyperion, January, 2021. 9781368075107. (Review of downloadable e-audiobook borrowed from public library.)

Happy Tuesday! I had yet another sleepless night last night, the only good thing being able to watch the nearly full moon move across the sky.Teen Tuesday features Lore by Alexandra Bracken. Oof! How do I begin to describe this modern day tale of gods and heroes? Melora, Lore, Perseous always longed to become a warrior and help restore her family's glory. She is the last of the line of Perseous and has gone underground in order to elude those who murdered her family in the last Agon. An Agon is a seven-day battle that occurs every seven years in which the gods are stripped of their immortality and can be hunted by the descendants of ancient heroes and who would acquire the god or goddess' powers should they be killed. A new Agon has commenced in Manhattan and Lore is surprised to find that a wounded Athena wants to form an alliance with her in order to defeat a villain who not only killed Ares, but now wants to kill the remaining gods in order to acquire all their power.

The pace is fast and violent in this intricately-plotted, pulse-pounding adventure. This makes Percy Jackson's adventures look like a walk in Central Park. This is war and it isn't pretty. Mature teen fans of mythology retellings will find this fresh spin compelling. And, isn't that cover amazing?

Monday, March 14, 2022

Middle Grade Monday: Spy School: the Graphic Novel by Stuart Gibbs

Spy School: the Graphic Novel by Stuart Gibbs and illustrated by Anjan Sarker. Spy School GN #1. 296 p. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, February, 2022. 97811534455429. (Review of finished purchased copy.)

Happy Monday! I hope you had a wonderful weekend! Middle Grade Monday features Spy School: the Graphic Novel by Stuart Gibbs and illustrated by Anjan Sarker. The first book in the wildly popular, long running Spy School series has been adapted to the graphic novel format! Avid gamer Ben finds himself recruited for CIA training in a secret school. It's a dream come true for Ben. He may be a math genius, but cool under pressure, he is not. An attempt on his life is made and there's a mole in the school. The adults are inept, so it's up to Ben and Erica, the smartest, coolest, most beautiful girl in the school to investigate.

The fast-paced action translates well into the graphic novel format. The palette zings with energy and visual humor. Fans of the series will gobble this one up. Fans of graphic novels will as well and might just try out the series. More please!

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Picture Book Review: This Is (Not) Enough by Anna Kang

This Is (Not) Enough by Anna Kang. Illustrated by Christopher Weyant. unpaged. Two Lions, March 1, 2022. 9781542018517. (Review of finished copy courtesy of Blue Slip Media.)

Happy belated book birthday to Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant! The sixth book in the You are (Not) Small series, This is (Not) Enough published on March 1. Our two favorite fuzzy-wuzzies are back. This time, they are shopping for the perfect gift and angsting like crazy. They both want to find the absolute best gift possible! I can relate. My husband was so hard to buy gifts for! He had very definite taste and if he wanted something, he usually bought it for himself. To make matters worse, he was also an amazing gift giver.

What makes this book such a treasure is its relatability and gentle humor. The best lessons are imparted gently and subtly. The bright palette, generous use of white space and minimal text capture and hold the reader's attention, making it a terrific book to share as a lap read or at story time. 

#tbt: When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds

When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds. 240 p. Atheneum Books for Young Readers/ Simon & Schuster, January, 2014. 9781442459472. (Own.)

Happy Thursday! I usually reserve #tbt for books that are ten years old or older, but since I highlighted Jason Reynolds' latest book on Tuesday, I thought I'd highlight his debut today. Mr. Reynolds previously published poetry and a collaboration with Jason Griffin before writing for younger audiences at the encouragement of illustrator Christopher Myers.

In When I Was the Greatest, almost sixteen-year-old Ali talks about growing up in the Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn with his single mom and little brother. His father is involved with the family despite his parents' divorce and Ali fills his time with school, homework and boxing, effectively avoiding the gang and drug scene. His best friend Needles and Needles' little brother, Noodles aren't so lucky. Their single mother is a drug addict, who often forgets to feed and clothe her boys. Needles has Tourette's syndrome and knitting keeps his hands busy and his tics at bay. His tics, when they surface, make him the object of ridicule at best and endanger the boys when they make a poor decision.

Ali's Bed-Stuy neighborhood is as much of a character in this touching story of friendship and family ties. Mr. Reynolds paints of vivid picture of its barber shops, bodegas and sense of community.

When I Was the Greatest earned Mr. Reynolds the first of his many awards, The John Steptoe Award for New Talent and in the following four years, he published an astonishing eight novels, most of which went on to become New York Times bestsellers and also won awards. Presently, he is serving as the U.S. Ambassador of Children's Literature and traveling around the country listening and talking to young readers. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Waiting on Wednesday: Learning to Fall by Sally Englefried

Image: LBYR

Learning to Fall by Sally Englefried. 272 p. Little, Brown Young Readers, September, 6, 2022. 9780316367974.

Happy Wednesday! Waiting on Wednesday features Learning to Fall, a debut novel by Sally Engelfried. I love the cover and am always happy to read a debut. Learning to Fall releases September 6. Here's the publisher synopsis: Twelve-year-old Daphne reconciles with her father, who left her stranded three years ago, and learns forgiveness one fall at a time in this heartwarming debut by Sally Engelfried. For fans of The ​First Rule of Punk.

Daphne doesn't want to be stuck in Oakland with her dad. She wants to get on the first plane to Prague, where her mom is shooting a movie. Armed with her grandparents’ phone number and strict instructions from her mom to call them if her dad starts drinking again, Daphne has no problem being cold to him. But there's one thing Daphne can't keep herself from doing: joining her dad and her new friend Arlo at a weekly skate session.

When her dad promises to teach her how to ollie and she lands the trick, Daphne starts to believe in him again. He starts to show up for her, and Daphne learns things are not as black and white with her dad as she used to think. The way Daphne’s dad tells it, skating is all about accepting failure and moving on. But can Daphne really let go of her dad’s past mistakes? Either way life is a lot like skating: it’s all about getting back up after you fall.

Monday, March 7, 2022

Teen Tuesday: Ain't Burned All the Bright by Jason Reynolds

Ain't Burned All the Bright by Jason Reynolds. Illustrated by Jason Griffin. 384p. Caitlyn Dlouhy Books/ Atheneum/ Simon & Schuster, January, 2022. 9781534439467. (Review of finished purchased copy.)

Happy Tuesday! Teen Tuesday features Ain't Burned All the Bright by Jason Reynolds and illustrated by Jason Griffin. Mr. Reynolds is a fearless writer and poet, never afraid to get to the difficult spaces to speak truth. This hefty, visually stunning new work contains about ten sentences and over 300 pages of art inspired by those words that center around breathe. A young boy is quarantining with his family in an apartment where his mom has the news on 24/7 and it seems it's all bad news, especially for Black people. His little brother is glued to his video game and his father struggled to breathe in a bedroom.

Mr. Reynolds' text is typed on strips of paper, which are "taped" onto Moleskine notebook pages that are filled with Mr. Griffin's mixed media art. Both the art and the poetry are profound, not to be rushed through and something to revisit again and again.

Middle Grade Monday: Dear Student by Elly Swartz

Dear Student by Elly Swartz. 296 p. Delacorte Press/ Random House Children's Books, March, 2022. 9780593374139. (Review of arc courtesy of publicist.)

Happy Monday! I hope you had a wonderful weekend. Middle Grade Monday features Dear Student by Elly Swartz. Autumn is about to start middle school and she is worried. Her best friend, Prisha, moved to California and Autumn's family needed to move into the apartment about her mom's veterinary practice to save money after Autumn's dad decided to join the Peace Corps. He video called her on the first day of school with the advice to seize the day and choose to get involved in one thing at middle school. She's equal parts mad and sad at his desertion. As if these first day worries aren't enough, Autumn tries to help her little sister, Pickle overcome her own. Then, they find a chameleon in the middle of the road. They're about to move it to safety when a boy who is barreling down the road on a bike runs over its tail! What a day this is turning out to be! Luckily, Autumn's mom is a vet, so the three take the poor lizard to her.

Autumn's earnest and thoughtful first-person narration quickly pulls the reader in as she navigates her first day without her best friend. Luckily, she meets Logan, who has moved to Cape Cod from Chicago and Logan seems eager to be friends. Later, she meets the boy on the bike, Cooper, who is also newly transplanted to Cape Cod. It also helps to have Mr. Logan for homeroom and LA. He runs the school newspaper and everyone is wondering who he will pick to write the "Dear Student" advice column. Autumn likes to write, but she's not confident that she could give advice.

Ms. Swartz excels at writing gentle novels featuring tweens coping with a variety of issues including mental health problems. She nails the dynamics and drama of middle school, and also manages to weave in some larger societal issues, such as animals rights in an engaging way. And who doesn't love whoopie pies? Recipe include! Readers will root for Autumn as she finds her voice.

Thanks to Wunderkind PR for the opportunity to read and review Dear Student. My dear students will love to meet Autumn. 

Friday, March 4, 2022

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:

Wave by Diana Farid. 314 p. Cameron Kids/ Abrams Books, March 29, 2022. 9781951836580.

Publisher synopsis: A coming-of-age novel in verse set in 1980s Southern California, about a Persian American girl who rides the waves, falls, and finds her way back to the shore

Thirteen-year-old Ava loves to surf and to sing. Singing and reading Rumi poems settle her mild OCD, and catching waves with her best friend, Phoenix, lets her fit in—her olive skin looks tan, not foreign. But then Ava has to spend the summer before ninth grade volunteering at the hospital, to follow in her single mother’s footsteps to become a doctor. And when Phoenix’s past lymphoma surges back, not even surfing, singing, or poetry can keep them afloat, threatening Ava’s hold on the one place and the one person that make her feel like she belongs. With ocean-like rhythm and lyricism, Wave is about a girl who rides the waves, tumbles, and finds her way back to the shore.

Breaking Through the Clouds: the sometimes turbulent life of meteorologist Joanne Simpson by Sandra Nickel. Illustrated by Helena Perez Garcia. 48 p. Abrams Books for Young Readers/ Abrams Books, March 8, 2022. 9781419749568.

Publisher synopsis: An inspiring picture book about the meteorologist whose discoveries helped us understand how weather works

When Joanne Simpson (1923-2010) was a girl, she sailed her boat beneath the puffy white clouds of Cape Cod. As a pilot, she flew her plane so high, its wings almost touched them. And when World War II began and Joanne moved to the University of Chicago, a professor asked her to teach Air Force officers about those very clouds and the weather-changing winds.
As soon as the war ended, Joanne decided to seriously study the clouds she had grown to love so much. Her professors laughed. They told her to go home. They told her she was no longer needed. They told her, "No woman ever got a doctorate in meteorology. And no woman ever will."

But Joanne was stubborn. She sold her boat. She flew her last flight. She saved her money so that she could study clouds. She worked so hard and discovered so much that—despite what the professors said—she received a doctorate in meteorology. She was the first woman in the world to do so.

Breaking Through the Clouds tells the story of a trailblazing scientist whose discoveries about clouds and how they work changed everything we know about weather today.

Kids Fight Climate Change by Martin Dorey. Illustrated by Tim Wesson. 128 p. Candlewick Press, March 22, 2022. 9781536223484.

Publisher synopsis: Our planet is in trouble! But with the help of this book, every kid can be a superhero making a difference. Sixty engaging missions guide readers through making carbon-saving changes in all aspects of their lives, from gardening to gadgets—even a DIY water-saving device for their toilet tank! Aided by lively illustrations, the author weaves crucial climate statistics and helpful resources with stories of positive change already happening, such as the resurgence of the Eurasian beaver due to conservation efforts. Along the way, readers meet other superheroes, both animal and human, who are changing the world too. With advice about speaking up and inspiring others to join in, veteran environmentalist Martin Dorey infuses optimism and encouragement into this essential guide to saving Earth, two minutes at a time.

Kids can help save planet Earth with these positive, climate-focused missions from best-selling author and eco-warrior Martin Dorey.

I Am a Neutrino: Tiny Particles in a Big Universe by Dr. Eve M. Vavagiakis. Illustrated by Ilze Lemesis. Candlewick Press, March 22, 2022. 9781536222074.

Publisher synopsis: Before you finish reading this sentence, trillions upon trillions of neutrinos will have passed through your body. Not sure what a neutrino is? Get an up-close-and-personal introduction in this dazzling picture book from MIT Kids Press, told in lilting rhyme from the neutrino’s point of view and filled with mind-bending, full-bleed illustrations that swirl and splash the cosmos to life. Some of the smallest bits of matter known to exist—and they exist everywhere—neutrinos are inspiring cutting-edge and Nobel Prize–winning research. Here, playful text and watercolor illustrations blended with photographs distill the concept of these mysterious particles down to its essence. “Know Your Neutrinos” end notes provide context for each spread, amplifying the science and making complex astrophysics and physics concepts approachable. This indispensable STEM title urges children to dream of contributing their own discoveries.

An accessible and visually arresting picture book about one of the universe's most mysterious particles for the youngest scientific minds.

The Stardust That Made Us: a Visual Exploration of Chemistry, Atoms, Elements and the Universe by Collin Stuart. Illustrated by  Ximo Abadia. 80 p. Big Picture Press/ Candlewick Press, March 22, 2022. 97811536223835.

Publisher synopsis: Designed to present chemistry in a new, approachable way, this book explores the history and application of chemistry in the natural world. With incredible artwork from Ximo Abadía, the reader can visualize the 118 known elements and explore the chemical makeup of the universe. With engaging, easy-to-understand text by acclaimed science writer Colin Stuart, this title will truly captivate and inspire.


What's in your mailbox this week?

Fact Friday: Breaking Through the Clouds: the Sometimes Turbulent Life of Meteorologist Joanne Simpson

Breaking Through the Clouds: the Sometimes Turbulent Life of Meteorologist Joanne Simpson by Sandra Nickel and illustrated by Helena Perez Garcia. 48 p. Abrams Books for Young Readers, March 8, 2022. 9781419749568.

Happy Friday! Fact Friday celebrates Women's History Month and #nevertoooldforpicturebooks with Breaking Throught the Clouds: the Sometimes Turbulent Life of Meteorologist Joanne Simpson by Sandra Nickel and illustrated by Helena Perez Garcia. Any TMS sixth grader can tell you that one of my mottos is that one is never too old for picture books, especially if it is an informational one and especially if it is a biography. I cannot tell you how many times I was able to solve a crossword clue thanks to something I read in a book for young readers.

Joanne Simpson's fascination with clouds began at age five, when she took a small boat out behind the family cottage in Cape Cod to watch the clouds. By age ten, she was sailing solo in the ocean to escape her mother's harsh words for her. It seems that Joanne was "too stubborn and too smart" to be loved. So Joanne took solace in sailing and cloud watching. She was flying a plane by age sixteen and was able to get closer to her beloved clouds. She also kept notebooks. During WWII, while at the University of Chicago, she was asked to teach Air Force officers about clouds, but when the war ended and she wanted to continue her studies and earn a PhD, her professors laughed. She was a woman, and no women were meteorologist and she wanted to study clouds and clouds were just "currents of air filled with tiny beads of water..."

But Joanne persisted. She sold her boat to earn enough money to continue studying. She read. She studied. She watched the clouds and made calculations. She earned her PhD, but there were still obstacles ahead of her because she was a woman working in a "man's" field. All of her calculations were done using a slide rule, pencil and graph paper while her professor had a huge computer to work with. Eventually, this professor, who laughed at Joanne years earlier, recognized the importance of her models and offered her the use of his computer.

The palette in the gouache illustrations pop with vibrant color and add energy to this story of resiliency and perseverance. The end pages are decorated with all the different types of clouds. I appreciated the details embedded in the book cover, such as the weather map in the background and her flowing scarf. The pattern made me think of birds and of her love of flying. Back matter includes an author's note, three black and white photos of Dr. Simpson at work, a selected bibliography and a timeline.

This picture book releases next week. Budding meteorologists will want to learn about this important history, but it is history everyone should be aware of. Happy book birthday (in advance) to Breaking Through Clouds! Happy Women's History Month! Happy reading!

Thursday, March 3, 2022

#tbt: Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Wonder by R.J. Palacio. 315 p. Alfred A. Knopf/ Random House Children's Books, February, 2012. 9780375869020. (Own.)

Happy Thursday! #tbt celebrates the 10th anniversary of the publication of Wonder by R.J. Palacio. Auggie was born with a severe facial deformity and so, his parents homeschooled him in order to minimize his contact with people who invariably react with horror at him. He's about to start fifth grade and, while the headmaster of his private NYC school tries to smooth the way, things do not go smoothly for Auggie. The story, is told from multiple points-of-view and is a compelling read. It received many starred reviews, spent years on the New York Times Bestseller List, and was named an ALA Notable Book. It's a perfect discussion book and has been chosen as a "One book, whole school" read. Additionally, Ms. Palacio's debut novel was made into a film, which released in 2017. Ms. Palacio later published companion books, such as 365 Days of Wonder, filled with Mr. Browne's precepts, a picture book of the same name and a novella called Julian's Story. She also wrote and illustrated the graphic novel, White Bird: a Wonder Story, which is about Julian's grandmother's experience during WWII.

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Waiting on Wednesday: Nothing More to Tell by Karen M. McManus

Nothing More to Tell by Karen M. McManus. 368 p. Delacorte Press/ Random House Children's Books, August 30, 2022. 9780593175903.

Waiting on Wednesday features Nothing More to Tell by Karen M. McManus. I reviewed her latest yesterday on Teen Tuesday and while her books have a more mature bent to them, so many of my students have discovered them and are recommending them to me as well as their friends. This one might skew a bit too old for my crew though.

Publisher synopsis: Four years ago, Brynn left Saint Ambrose School following the shocking murder of her favorite teacher—a story that made headlines after the teacher’s body was found by three Saint Ambrose students in the woods behind their school. The case was never solved. Now that Brynn is moving home and starting her dream internship at a true-crime show, she’s determined to find out what really happened. 

The kids who found Mr. Larkin are her way in, and her ex–best friend, Tripp Talbot, was one of them. Without his account of events, the other two kids might have gone down for Mr. Larkin’s murder. They've never forgotten what Tripp did for them that day. Just like he hasn’t forgotten that everything he told the police was a lie.

Digging into the past is bound to shake up the present, and as Brynn begins to investigate what happened in the woods that day, she begins to uncover secrets that might change everything—about Saint Ambrose, about Mr. Larkin, and about her ex-best friend, Tripp Talbot.

Four years ago someone got away with murder. The most terrifying part is that they never left.

Teen Tuesday and Audiobook Review: You'll Be the Death of Me by Karen M. McManus

You'll Be the Death of Me by Karen M. McManus. Unabridged e-audiobook, ~10 hours. Read by Rachel L. Jacobs, Anthony Rey Perez, Max Meyers and Malik Rashad. Listening Library/ Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group, November, 2021. 9780593208359. (Review of e-audiobook borrowed from the public library.)

Happy Tuesday! Teen Tuesday features You'll Be the Death of Me by Karen M. McManus. The queen of YA mystery/ thrillers is back with another whodunnit that will thrill her many fans at my school. High-strung, over-achieving Ivy Sterling-Shepherd has just lost the student council election to slacker Brian, Bony, Mahoney and she just can't bear to face attending the assembly where he will accept the position. She runs into her two former best friends in the high school parking lot and the three decide to skip school for the day to drive into Boston. They are going to try and recreate "The Best Day Ever," when they ditched a school field trip to hang out in seventh grade. They remained fast friends until high school, where they drifted apart. Cal is bummed that his "maybe girlfriend" stood him up and Mateo is beat from having to work three jobs to help support his ailing mother. The three are cautiously reconnecting in Boston when they spy Bony, or someone who looks just like him crossing the street. Ivy decides to confront him and gets up to follow, leaving the boys wondering what to do. When they finally catch up to her in an abandoned building, she's frozen in shock, staring at a dead body. It's Bony. The police are coming. The three are in the wrong place at the wrong time, and each has something to hide, so they run.

The pace is pulse-pounding as the POV shifts between Ivy, Cal and Mateo, leaving the reader guessing until the very end. As with all of Ms. McManus' books there is a high creep factor making this suitable for more mature teen readers. The audio performances were well-paced, with each performer nailing the teen voice and attitude.