Tuesday, September 29, 2020

My Life in the Fish Tank by Barbara Dee

Thanks to @kidlitexchange, @simonandschuster and @barbaradeebooks for a review copy of My Life in the Fish Tank - out now! Barbara Dee is killing it with her poignant middle-grade novels, so you won't want to miss this one.

Zinny is used to her home life being pretty wild since she has three siblings, but when her older brother, Gabriel, is in a car accident, things at home completely change. Gabriel is admitted to a hospital to get his bipolar disorder under control, and Zinny feels horrible that she told an adult about Gabriel's strange behaviors. But now her parents don't want Zinny to tell anyone about Gabriel, so Zinny doesn't know what to talk to her friends about. They keep talking about boys they have crushes on, but Zinny isn't interested in that. She loves science, so she starts spending her lunch period in the science lab with Ms. Molina, her favorite teacher. Zinny starts using science as her outlet, to help her stay as calm as she possibly can, considering both her family life AND social life are in shambles. Zinny just wants Gabriel to come home, for her parents to understand, and to make it into the summer science camp her teacher nominates her for; but all of that seems like too big of a miracle.

Barbara Dee also wrote "Maybe He Just Likes You", about a middle-grade girl not liking the male attention she is getting. That book handled this age and this struggle so realistically, and "My Life in the Fish Tank" is written with that same level of reliability. Tackling the tough issues of mental health, family relationships, and changing friendships, this is a must-read for any middle-grade reader (and up!).

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Stealing Mt Rushmore by Daphne Kalmar

Stealing Mt Rushmore by Daphne Kalmar is out now! Thanks to @kidlitexchange, @daphnekalmar, and #feiwelandfriends for the ARC.

Nell's dad is fascinated by Mt Rushmore; he even wanted to name his children George, Thomas, Teddy, and Abe. But after Tom came a girl, who was named after Susan B. Anthony, called Nell for short. So her dad never got his Abe, but he's determined to take the whole family to see Mt Rushmore in person. When he goes to find his stash of vacation cash, he realizes it has been stolen... kinda. Nell's mom took it when she left the family that spring. Nell has been struggling with how her family seems to be falling apart, but having the trip taken from them is the straw that broke the camel's back. Nell is determined to earn money so the family can go on the trip, even if she can't track down her mom.

I loved reading about Nell as she adjusted to everyone around her changing. Her friend Maya is becoming interested in boys, which makes Nell think of her as an alien. The family dynamics in this book are so powerful, especially with the historical context of being set in 1974. Many chapters begin with actual headlines from a Boston newspaper in July 1974, so I love that this can be paired with history/social studies/political lessons in the classroom or library.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

The Big Door Prize by M.O. Walsh

It's been too long since I posted about an adult book, and just for fun. I recently read The Big Door Prize by M.O. Walsh and had to share some thoughts.

First off, the premise is what hooked me. A machine is installed in a grocery store in the small town of Deerfield, Louisiana. This machine reads your DNA and gives you a printout telling you what you're capable of in this life. Sit down, feed it $2, swab your cheek with a Q-tip, and get instant results. The whole town lines up to see their potential.

Of course, some people don't buy what the machine is selling, but even those few are tempted to give it a try. Wouldn't you be? Some people find out that they're doing exactly what they were destined to do. Some people realize they're on the wrong path, and they quit their jobs and go in a whole new direction. The book itself follows Douglas Hubbard, his wife Cherilyn, high school student Jacob, and the Catholic school's priest, Father Pete. Since it's set in a small town, there are a lot of other secondary characters that shine in their roles and round out the whole story. 

Also, the "twist" of the story is so slick, so slight, so hidden in the last little bit of the book, that I read it, kept on, then stopped in my (reading) tracks. It's so good. SO good. Seriously. I'd say the slow parts of the book are worth it JUST for the twist. The overall resolution to the book is good too, but wow, that twist...

I "accidentally" read a 1- or 2-star review of this when I added it to my "Currently Reading" shelf on GoodReads. The reviewer said the book had a lot of potential but was pretty slow and didn't dive as deep as it could have into the story. I was kind of bummed about that, but since the premise itself really interested me, I stuck with it. It did get a little slow in some parts, but I kind of liked that it was more about the lives in the small town and how they were affected by this machine, than the machine and how that played out for individuals. It was funny enough to just hear about how people turned their lives upside down and went a little crazy based on their DNA reading; I actually think focusing more on this would have been boring because it would read more like a short story collection of everyone's options.

In fact, there is a short story collection with a similar premise! If you like the idea of a machine telling you something and changing your whole life, check out This Is How You Die

THIS IS HOW YOU DIE is a new short fiction anthology, filled with stories and comics about a world in which a machine can predict how you die.

It just takes a drop of blood from a finger. Then it spits out a sliver of paper upon which are printed, in careful block letters, the words “DROWNED” or “CANCER” or “OLD AGE” or “CHOKED ON A HANDFUL OF POPCORN.”

Nothing else. No dates, no details. And it’s always — always — correct.

 Anyway, all of this is to say that if the premise of a machine determining your future interests you, read BOTH of these books!

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

BenBee and the Teacher Griefer by K.A. Holt

BenBee and the Teacher Griefer by K.A. Holt is out TODAY! Thanks to @kidlitexchange, @chroniclekidsbooks, and @kari_anne_holt for an ARC of this book.

I love K.A. Holt's verse novels, but this one is a whole new ball game! Four students, Ben B, Ben Y, Jordan J, and Javier, are in summer school because they failed their state assessment, and Ms. J is the teacher who's tasked with bringing them up to speed. These four students don't know it at first, but they have a lot in common. They hate to read. They have never finished reading a book on their own. And, most importantly, they all love the game Sandbox. After making an agreement with Ms. J, the students are allowed to read a Sandbox-themed Choose Your Own Adventure-type book, and even earn time to play Sandbox at school if they meet their time quota for reading aloud. The four students start to become friends as they open up about their struggles in the Sandbox game, along with in their real lives.

This is billed as a verse novel, but I'm excited at how many students it will appeal to because one character's chapter is told in drawings. I've known many students like this - hate reading, hate writing, but have so much to express if you let them draw. I think most middle grade readers will be able to see themselves in at least one of these four characters, while feeling empathy for them all. The characters and their struggles are real, relatable, and most of all - incredibly interesting to read about! This is definitely one to get for your home, classroom, school library, or middle grade section of the public library - it's going to be a hit!

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Mootilda's Bad Mood by Corey Rosen Schwartz, Kirsti Call, ill. by Claudia Ranucci

Mootilda's Bad Mood by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Kirsti Call, illustrated by Claudia Ranucci, is out now from Little Bee Books/Simon and Schuster.

Mootilda wakes up in a bad mooood, and the day goes downhill from there. Her bad mood is catching - lambs, pigs, chickens, and more grow grumpy after they encounter Mootilda. Then one small thing changes the entire course of the day.

This book is a fun way to talk with kids about moods in general, but also to show them that bad moods are ok, they happen to the best of us, they can easily affect others around us, but they don't last forever. The book has the signature rhymes and puns of Rosen Schwartz's other books, so kids will love it (and it's super fun to read aloud as an adult)! Also, at a time when I feel like I'm in a bad mood almost every day for one reason or another, this book was a really lighthearted way to help me step back and realize I don't need to stay in that funk!

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling by Wai Chim

Thanks to @kidlitexchange and @scholasticinc for sharing an ARC of The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling by @onewpc. This book is out November 10, 2020; add it to your list now so you don’t forget to grab a copy!

Anna is used to being in charge of everything; as the oldest sister, she naturally takes care of her younger brother and sister. Her dad works long hours at his restaurant, often spending the night in his office, so Anna also cooks dinner and makes sure her siblings do their homework. She even picks her little brother up from school. Anna does all this because her mother can’t - or won’t - Anna’s not entirely sure which. She just knows her mom stays in bed most of the time, and if she’s not in bed, she’s yelling at Anna for being a horrible daughter. Anna knows there’s some sort of mental illness making her mom unable to perform everyday tasks, but she doesn’t know what it is, or how to get help. She tries to lose herself in working in her father’s restaurant, where she loves to help cook… and watch Rory, the cute new delivery boy. As she gets to know Rory, Anna realizes that everyone has some sort of problem, and maybe she should ask for help with her mother. But that task seems impossible, until something happens that forces the family to take action.

This is a powerful book about mental illness and how it might be addressed and handled. I liked how Anna’s mother’s condition was discussed, but wished there was more about Rory - his illness fell a little flat for me, and I wish it had been explored more. I think it would help teens a lot more to see Anna not only dealing with her mother, but with a friend’s situation as well. Besides that, it was an interesting read, touching on typical YA tropes in a unique way and deftly balancing mental illness.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

The Canyon's Edge by Dusti Bowling

Thanks to @kidlitexchange, @littlebrownyr, and @dustibowling for an ARC of The Canyon’s Edge (by Dusti Bowling), which is out TODAY - you have GOT to get a copy of this one!

Nora and her father go on a hike for Nora’s birthday. They’re trying to get away from it all, to forget what happened last year on Nora’s birthday, when her mother died. The whole family has always loved hiking and rock climbing, and Nora wants them to keep it up even though they’re a family of two instead of three. After climbing down into a slot canyon, Nora and her father are caught in a flash flood. Her father pushes her to safety, but as Nora watches, her father and all their supplies are swept away.

This is a verse novel bookended by straight-forward narrative, which totally immerses the reader into the action. Nora is impressive in her fight for survival, but the book is very realistic about her situation, which adds some great suspense. This is so powerful and so emotional, and I can’t recommend it enough for middle grade readers and up.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

The Bridge by Bill Konigsberg

Thanks to @kidlitexchange and @scholasticinc for sharing an ARC of @bkonigsberg's The Bridge, which is out TODAY, so go ahead and grab your copy!

Aaron and Tillie "meet" when they lock eyes on the George Washington Bridge. Both teens are straddling the guardrail, ready to jump. The story is told in four different ways: Tillie jumps and Aaron doesn't, Aaron jumps and Tillie doesn't, they both jump, and neither jump. Each option is realistically fleshed out, showing how everyone even remotely involved with the teen reacted to the news.

This book is so heavy, so real, and so necessary. I hope it gets into as many hands as possible. I think showing the finality of suicide, and the reality of how it impacts others is so important. Teens (and honestly probably any age) need to see this, and it's even more powerful coming from someone who has been there. (Konigsberg has a moving explanation at the beginning of the book.) This is a hard read, depending on your mental state - aka hard for me during the pandemic, but this is probably a very crucial time for it to be read! I can't recommend this enough, and hope you recommend it to anyone you know who might be struggling, or who might need it to help those around them.