Monday, February 17, 2020

Captain Underpants and the Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants, written by Dav Pilkey, reviewed by Katy Golden

Summary: George and Harold are back with their hypnotized principal, Captain Underpants! When Professor Pippy P. Poopypants moves from his small country of New Swissland (which has a tradition of strange names) to achieve success as a scientist in America, he is surprised that his name makes him the laughingstock of the scientific community. Disappointed, he decides that he will prove himself as a science teacher at an elementary school, because “You can always count on the kindness and innocence of children!” Naturally, this is not the case: George and Harold, along with their peers, can’t concentrate on their science because they are laughing at his name. To gain their attention, Professor Poopypants decides to show ng off his inventions, such as the Shrinky-Pig 2000 and the Goosy-Grow 4000. When the students continue to laugh at his name, Professor Poopypants decides to take over the world and force everyone to change their names to a silly name. Luckily, George and Harold have Captain Underpants - and their own creativity - to save the day!

Straight Talk for Librarians: George and Harold’s fourth adventure has been republished in full color and readers will be chomping at the bit to get their turn! Few writers have the comedic, clever and readable flair that defines Pilkey's work, and his blockbuster success makes this purchase a no-brainer. Every page is in full color, making the characteristic flip-o-rama, mini-comics, and illustrations pop even more than the original. Readers will also love the opportunity to use the Professor’s name-changing code boards to come up with their own new “silly” name: Flunky Lizardchunks? Snotty Gerbilsniffer? Fans of Captain Underpants, silly names, and clever pranks will be begging for more!

Unidentified Suburban Object, written by Mike Jung, reviewed by Kalie Mehaffy

Summary: Chloe Cho is a Korean American seventh grader who loves being Korean, even though she is the only Korean American in her town. She is delighted to find out that her new social studies teacher. Ms. Lee, is also Korean. Chloe is also delighted when Ms. Lee assigns the students a report on their family history, since Chloe always wanted to know more about her family history. Unfortunately, her parents find excuses to change the subject every time she tries to ask them about their history. Eventually, her parents can't avoid Chloe's questions any longer, and what Chloe learns shakes her to her very core - it even causes her to fight with her best friend Shelby. Thankfully, Chloe and Shelby overcome this life changing realization together.

Straight Talk for Librarians: This book was an absolute delight to read, and I think it is a great book for a library. The School Library Journal is absolutely correct in their review, the reveal of why Chloe's parents don't want to discuss their past adds a jolt of energy to the rest of the novel, and Chloe's reactions are an amazing representation of a seventh grader reacting to unexpected and life changing news. I think if it were to be used in a classroom, it would be best used as a class read aloud novel to teach empathy, predictions, and to introduce the idea of research projects, as Chloe spend a few chapters doing research in this book. Unidentified Suburban Object by Mike Jung will absolutely be added to my middle school library.

Listen to Your Heart, written by Kasie West, reviewed by Stephanie Wilson

Summary: Kate Bailey joins the podcasting club to please her best friend Alana and her parents. If given the choice, she would rather spend all of her time at the lake. Kate secretly hopes for a behind the scenes job. To her shock and dismay, Ms. Lyon choses Kate’s topic for the podcast and names her as co-host. Kate lets Victoria take the lead and begrudgingly accepts her on air identity as Kat. After a slow start, the podcast’s popularity grows beyond everyone’s expectations. Kate quickly finds herself besieged in the halls by students seeking her advice for their problems. Part of the podcast’s appeal lies in the ability of callers to choose to remain anonymous. Kate soon realizes that one of the callers is Alana's crush and another caller is a family member. Can Kate keep her fans, her family and friends happy, or is her need to maintain her callers' privacy a recipe for disaster?

Straight Talk for Librarians: Kate is a loveable and relatable character that readers will adore. The supporting characters are well rounded and memorable. West clearly knows what her readers want. The plot is believable and entertaining. The novel’s high interest subject and lower reading level make it a great recommendation for striving readers. Though the book is set in high school, the novel is appropriate for middle school students. The romance is light-hearted and sweet without ever becoming saccharine. I rarely read romance novels and particularly not young adult romance novels. I loved a previous Kasie West novel and decided to take a chance on Listen to Your Heart. I am thrilled that her writing is consistently strong and entertaining. Kasie West has created another delightful romantic comedy novel. Fans of Kasie West's previous novels will love this heartfelt tale of romance, friendship and family loyalty. I highly recommend this novel. It would make a wonderful addition to a classroom library. Listen to Your Heart clearly deserves to find a home in a school or public library.

Not One Damsel in Distress: Heroic Girls From World Folklore, written by Jane Yolen, reviewed by Anneliese White

Summary: Originally published in 2000, and republished again in 2018 with two additional folk stories, “Not One Damsel in Distress: Heroic Girls from World Folklore,” explores fifteen folktales that feature women heroes (not heroines, or sheroes, but strong women heroes!). Yolen compiled this collection for young girls, especially her granddaughters, who unlike her as a child, could have a book that represents strong women, who use weapons and/or their wit to fight peril. Featured are a collection of stories from all livable continents of the world including Niger, Germany, Argentia, China, Scotland, Greece, Romania, the United States, Poland, Japan, France, England, Indonesia, and Azerbaijan. Not only does it give young readers a varying scope of world cultures, it shows them women heroes come in numerous variations, giving them a range of champions to identify with. It is a beautiful and well put together collection, and I especially enjoyed enough representation of stories from the Middle East and Asia, which may be especially new to American readers.

Straight Talk for Librarians: School libraries’ non-fiction collection is often lacking, and this title is a perfect purchase for the folklore section. It has such a diverse collection of stories that readers will feel transported across the globe and will savor each hero. Yolen perfectly pieced this collection together to show that girl champions come in many forms, from princesses to warriors to average girls. This title has so many lesson possibilities with folk tales, studies on individual foreign nations, and of course bravery and courage. Notes on the stories at the end of the book fantastically explain the origin and variations of each story. My only criticism is I wish there were more illustrations, and that those illustrations were in color. In an open letter to Jane Yolen at the end, her daughter and granddaughters perfectly sum up that they in fact, did not need this book because they already know girls have the power to be heroes, but that boys need this book even more so they know that girls can be heroes too.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Agatha Parrot and the Odd Street School Ghost, written by Kjartan Poskitt, reviewed by Katy Golden

Summary: Agatha Parrot, of the "crazy hair and awesome freckles", narrates another story about the happenings on Odd Street. In this installment, the school bell has been ringing at all times of the night, waking all of the Odd Street gang. The unpredictable bell, as well as some spooky sightings at school, have prompted the students to suspect a ghost is haunting Odd Street School! As more and more weird things are blamed on the ghost, the principal decides to host an overnight Ghost Watch to put a stop to the stories once and for all. Complicated by the vice principal’s ban on ladders, mean girls trying to scare Agatha’s easily shaken friends, and a clumsy but kind janitor, Agatha works to get to the bottom of the haunting.

Straight Talk for Librarians: Agatha is a friendly, chatty narrator who is constantly breaking the fourth wall by conversing with her “lovely reader” (“That’s where this chapter ends, so you can shut the book now”). Her “gang” of four friends are largely one-dimensional, and while the adults are largely comical, they, too, are undeveloped. With large, easy-to-read type accompanied by black-and-white drawings, “Agatha Parrot” is a transitional chapter book series for fans of Katie Kazoo and Junie B that are looking for a quick read. An additional purchase

Nancy Clancy Seeks a Fortune, written by Jane O'Connor, reviewed by Katy Golden

Summary: Ooh la la! Jane O’Connor’s Fancy Nancy has graduated to chapter books, and is still as genuine, French-obsessed, and fancy as ever! In this seventh installment in the series, which can easily be read as a stand-alone or even as an introduction to our elegant heroine, Nancy and her best friend Bree are intent on striking it rich. Inspired by a class unit on the Gold Rush, all of third grade is picking up the entrepreneurial spirit: Classmates are selling baseball cards, teaching lasso lessons, and hosting biscuit stands. Nancy and Bree are eager to join in, too, but their ideas are less successful: There’s no demand for their homemade face cream, and the supplies for their cardboard tiaras are too expensive to make a profit. Sacre bleu! When their favorite TV show, Antiques in the Attic (think: Antiques Roadshow), comes to town, both girls are thrilled to learn that their possessions are worth a lot of money, but ultimately come to the decision that some things are priceless.

Straight Talk for Librarians: Readers who grew up with Fancy Nancy picture books and early readers will be thrilled with this illustrated chapter book version. The illustrations are simple line drawings that perfectly capture Nancy’s effervescent (and, of course, fancy) style and enthusiasm. Readers will feel accomplished as they pick up Nancy’s “superb” vocabulary by reading the simple definitions that accompany each fancy word (“Nancy and Bree were more than surprised. They were flabbergasted.”). This installment could be used as a companion for an economics unit or alongside Jacqueline Davies' The Lemonade War to teach demand, products and services, and the challenges of entrepreneurship. Nancy Clancy is a gem of an illustrated chapter book series to hand to any fan of a headstrong female lead!

Princess Truly in My Magical Sparking Curls, written by Kelly Greenawalt, reviewed by Anneliese White

Summary: Princess Truly is your average girl who enjoys an unconventional and magical day of swimming on the ocean floor with fishes, playing in outer space, racing dinosaurs (spoiler alert: T Rex wins), and more. She however has a special part of her, and that’s her beautiful curls! This book celebrates the uniqueness and loveliness of African American hair, and readers will delight in the rhyming style of Truly’s story and the vibrant painted illustrations. “I love my fluffy, puffy curls; I’m so happy they are mine. When I believe in myself, they shimmer and they shine.” With a purple tutu, green shoes, and colorful bows, Princess Truly dances across the pages and will inspire self-confidence and joy in her readers.

Straight Talk for Librarians: This book definitely represents diversity, and would be a beneficial addition to a library seeking to fulfill that goal. It was written by and illustrated by two women who happen to be Caucasion and who both have daughters who are African American. As mentioned at the end of Truly’s story, they wanted to create this book so their daughters could “...see a strong, smart, problem-solving, confident young girl with beautiful curls who could do anything she set her mind to!” The illustrations are in watercolor form, and will entertain young readers. This book could be exclusionary in an obvious way as young male readers most likely won’t want to pick up a book about a princess, nor a book with pink and purple all over the cover. It would be great as a choice to promote and discuss self-esteem and the differences that we all have, and should all celebrate. Undoubtedly it is a recommended purchase for libraries where the book fits.

The Superpower Field Guide: Ostriches, written by Rachel Poliquin, reviewed by Klaudia Janek

Summary: This non-fiction book on Ostriches is the third book in the Superpower Field Guide series. Poliquin’s humorous style of writing paired with Firth’s entertaining (but informative) illustrations make for a really great author/illustrator team. Why should students pick up this book? “You’re thinking that ostriches are just overgrown chickens with ridiculous necks, skinny legs, and bad attitudes.” Poliquin assures readers they will know ostriches by the end of this book and will be convinced that they have superpowers. Eno is the name of the ostrich in the book. He has horrible feet. However, Eno’s feet are actually “two-toed torpedoes and claws of death.” Readers will also learn about the African savannah and the Serengeti. Like the other books, the chapters are once again organized by the ostriches superpowers. The text also contains a lot of fun trivia about ostriches, along with charts and a glossary.

Straight Talk for Librarians: I have really been enjoying this series. While it is marketed for younger students, I really think that high school readers will get a lot out of these books. The text is really engaging and it’s not often that you laugh out loud reading biology-like information. I did not realize how large and powerful ostriches are. The illustrator chose complementary earthy colors and you can easily spot the other books in the series based on this style. I think this is a pretty unique series and I highly recommend it for elementary through high school libraries. I am going to set up a portable display and bring these books to the biology classrooms to just have in there. My hope is that students will just pick them up and start reading. Once they get hooked, I will be happy to check it out to them. I think these books can serve as a great inspiration for coming up with topics for animal reports and it’s much more entertaining than the usual lists of animal traits. I think the book (and series) is very interdisciplinary as it shows the possibilities between biology, writing and visual arts. Perfect for an IB school!

Ruff vs. Fluff, written by Spencer Quinn, reviewed by Katy Golden

Summary: In this new series, Quinn (the Bowser & Birdie series) takes us to the Green Mountains’ failing BlackBerry Hill Inn, inhabited by twins Bro and Harmony, their mom, and their two pets. Queenie, the glamorous, self-obsessed cat who observes the world from her “command post” atop the grandfather clock, and Arthur, the goofy, excitable dog who is constantly forgetting what he’s doing, narrate the story in alternating chapters. When an inn guest is murdered on an old mountain path, the inept, corrupt sheriff immediately suspects the twins’ cousin. With the help of their animal companions, Bro and Harmony set out to clear his name. The mystery that unfolds reveals a treasure stashed during Prohibition, as well as families that have been seeking the booty, and culminates in a suspenseful chase to a mountain cave where the murderer brandishes his gun. Queenie and Arthur, appropriately, each have roles in saving the day.

Straight Talk for Librarians: While the mystery plot is a bit convoluted and the amount of characters can seem daunting, the novelty of a story told through the pets’ point of view will engage animal-loving readers. Queenie and Arthur are both a bit charicaturized at times (there is only so much self-praise from Queenie and forgetfulness from Arthur that one page needs), but each are lovable in their own way. The reader does need to put some pieces together at times to solve the mystery, because the narrators are not doing the work for them, and a basic knowledge of the Prohibition era could be helpful in understanding the outcome. Use this as a mentor text to model voice or perspective using the dual narrators, or as a quirky read for an adventure or animal lover. Violence and use of weapons; grades 5-8.

Save me a Seat, written by Sarah Weeks & Gita Varadarajan, reviewed by Klaudia Janek

Summary: Fifth-grader Ravi is starting school at Albert Einstein Elementary School. He is coming from Bangalore and had to move because of his father’s new job. Ravi was a star student at home and he was also a great cricket player. However, when he arrives in New Jersey, the students at his new school can’t understand and everything from his pressed clothes to his lunches make him stand out. Joe is our other protagonist. He has Auditory Processing Disorder and has been the object of bullying for as long as he can remember. He goes with a teacher named Miss Frost for extra reading help and he looks forward to working with her. To make matters worse, Joe’s mom started working in the cafeteria because she needed a job that was flexible with school hours. Both Ravi and Joe feel like outsiders who question their place at school.

Straight Talk for Librarians: This is a really unique book with two authors alternating chapters with their stories. The book chapters are set up by the lunch schedule, so the story spans a week and the reader will know what is for lunch every day that week. I thought it was a really cool structural device for the story. I think this is a particularly poignant story in terms of finding ways to understand each other and becoming friends with people who might be a little different than you. It’s hard to be an outsider for a variety of reasons. It also gives the reader some insight into what it might feel like to be at a new school and experiencing a new culture. I would say there is also a message about trying to understand living with a learning disability as some readers may have never heard of APD. There is also the underlying message about the importance of pronouncing names correctly. It’s a big part of a student’s identity, so we should all try hard to pronounce names correctly. I think this story could be a great way to develop empathy and to walk in someone else’s shoes. For some readers, this book may introduce a lot of new foods and how lunch might differ between students in the US and in India. Many other books are available about school lunches around the world in non-fiction so this might serve as a good opportunity for fiction and non-fiction book pairings in the library. This book could also serve as inspiration to sit with someone new during lunch and get to know them a little bit. Both Ravi and Joe have a glossary at the end and readers will be delighted to find two recipes they could try that were mentioned in the book. I think this book would work well as a read-aloud so it could be a good choice for a One Book, One School read. All in all, this book is a great purchase for an elementary school library.

Click, written by Kayla Miller, reviewed by Anneliese White

Summary: Olive is in the fifth grade, and is excited when her teacher Mr. Florez announces that her fifth grade class will be having a variety show. She seems to get along and be friends with everyone in her class, but as the plans for the variety show unfold, Olive seems to be left out. Groups start forming to do a karate bit, a singing and dancing group, and so on, but no one asks Olive to join them. She starts to feel very left out and unwanted when she goes home. Her mom wants to step in and call other parents to help Olive be included in their kids’ groups, but Olive does not want her mom to intervene, and wants her friends to invite her of their own volition. Eventually, her Aunt Molly comes to save the day, showing her DVDs of old variety shows to give Olive inspiration. Olive has a grand idea that will make her feel included in the variety show, and do so on her terms. Instead of heeding to the formation of cliques, she makes herself a spot that “clicks” with ALL of her classmates.

Straight Talk for Librarians: This will be a popular graphic novel in the collection and has a fantastic message for teachers and librarians to use with students. As 5th grade ends and middle school begins, cliques are almost always beginning, and this graphic novel poignantly portrays the hurt many kids feel when social groups change and they feel left out. Olive demonstrates such a great message that it’s still important to be kind to others but also be true to yourself. The illustrations, done by Miller, are well done and feature a diversity in characters. Click portrays a difficult topic in a lighthearted way, and will open up discussions for your students. Definitely a must add.

Best Babysitters Ever, written by Caroline Cala, reviewed by Anneliese White

Summary: This reboot brings back the nostalgia of Ann M. Martin’s Babysitters Club series, and actually, pays quite a bit of homage to it in the beginning of the story. Three characters- Malia, Dot, and Bree- bring humor to this novel, each of them narrating their own chapters. They are all in the 7th grade, and really want to throw a party that will be spectacular and inevitably make them popular with the other middle schoolers, but the only snafu is that they need money. Malia has the great idea to start a babysitting club (even though all three of them are not big on little children), to raise funds for the party of the year. Various things will get in their way of running a successful babysitting business, especially Malia’s older sister Chelsea, as she swoops in and starts a babysitting business of her own, the Seaside Sitters, who end up stealing all the business. Will Dot, Bree, and Malia be able to turn their business around? Will the girls be able to throw the social event of their dreams (and also impress Malia’s crush Connor)? Younger readers will definitely be captivated in this story to find out.

Straight Talk for Librarians: There is no doubt that this book will be appealing to upper elementary students at any library. It has the epic formula of girl power, boy crushes, pesky older siblings, and parents who seem to treat the main characters unfairly. If readers are looking for deep substance and a non-cliche read, this may not be the right match. It would be something I would recommend for librarians to purchase because it is a fun reboot of the popular Babysitters Club (with a second book already out), but it is highly doubtful that middle school students would be interested in this one, as the storyline and characters are quite immature (despite the main characters being in 7th grade in the book). The three main characters (Bree, Dot, and Malia) are diverse, which is nice. It could be used to start a discussion on entrepreneurship. Definitely recommended, but with the push to 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade readers.