February 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Get Lost in New York, Untangle a Mystery or Two, and Join the Circus | Middle Grade

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redstarAirgood, Ellen. The Education of Ivy Blake. 256p. Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Bks. Jun. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780399162787; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9781101603949.

Gr 4-6 –Eleven-year-old Ivy Blake has spent most of a wonderful year with the Evers family. She loves Mom, Dad, Grammy, and especially her best friend, Prairie, and she knows that they love her too, but she can’t quite feel like she belongs with them. When her mother asks Ivy to come back to live with her, the girl is conflicted but decides to go. Living with her mother again isn’t easy—it means a new school, conflicting loyalties, borderline neglect, and the constant strain of her mother’s negative outlook and dangerously uncertain temper. Ivy copes and creates through her sketchbook; drawing and writing about her days, the people she loves, and her dreams of making movies. Having dealt with a lot of tough situations in her short life, Ivy is mature and self-aware, but also realistically confused and emotionally awkward. As the title suggests, Ivy’s character development is the core of the story, and its strength is Ivy’s need to find her own identity and figure her problems out herself. Even the people who love her dearly and believe in her can’t give her the answers—she has to find out for herself who she is and who she wants to be. With the exception of Ivy’s mother, who is difficult but not a caricature, the people in Ivy’s world are almost impossibly warm, intuitive, creative, and kind. This leaves the ending more in the realm of wish fulfillment than harsh reality, but Ivy’s insistence on relying on herself ensures that readers will feel that she’s earned it. Like Anne of Green Gables and many other neglected creative girls before her, Ivy is irresistible, and readers will be rooting for her all the way. VERDICT A thoughtful and sweet story about finding the family you need in order to be your best self.–Katya Schapiro, Brooklyn Public Library

redstarBeasley, Cassie. Circus Mirandus. 304p. Dial. Jun. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780525428435; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780698189065. LC 2014031463.

Gr 4-6 –Fifth-grader Micah Tuttle has been living with his Grandpa Ephraim since his parents died when he was very young. The two are close; Grandpa Ephraim teaches Micah how to tie complicated knots and tells him fanciful tales about the magical Circus Mirandus and its many performers, including a powerful illusionist called the Lightbender. When Grandpa Ephraim becomes gravely ill, his sister, the strict and dour Aunt Gertrudis, comes to take care of the household. She severely limits Micah’s time with his sick grandfather, and the boy is distraught at the idea of losing the only important person in his life. In a stolen moment, Grandpa Ephraim surprises Micah by revealing that the Circus Mirandus is real, and that the Lightbender promised him a miracle when he was a child. The protagonist begins to hope that his grandfather will get well. The Circus Mirandus arrives in town on the wind, and Micah, with the help of his classmate Jenny Mendoza, seeks out the Lightbender and tries to retrieve the miracle that Grandpa Ephraim has requested. During a whirlwind adventure in the Circus, Micah learns about his family and discovers that the miracle that Grandpa Ephraim asked for might not be the one that Micah had in mind. Circus Mirandus is not a simple story, but readers will be rewarded for delving into its intricacies. VERDICT This gripping fantasy tale will have readers hooked from the opening scene to the breathtaking—and unexpected—conclusion.–Sarah Reid, Broome County Public Library, Binghamton, NY

HGraff, Lisa. Lost in the Sun. 304p. ebook available. Philomel. May 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780399164064.

Gr 4-8–Trent Zimmerman is consumed by rage. The universe has been manifestly unfair to him and he doesn’t know how to handle it. Seven months ago, he struck a hockey puck at a bad angle, sending it like a missile into the chest of a boy with a previously undiagnosed heart ailment. That boy died and Trent feels responsible. And he’s furious about it. He can no longer bring himself to play sports (at which he used to excel) since he has panic attacks any time he tries. He’s sure everyone hates him, except maybe for his mom and his older brother, and he doesn’t blame them. His father and stepmother seem to prefer his brothers and he thinks that’s understandable. He tries to expel his morbid, angry thoughts by drawing in a journal. He doesn’t know if that makes things better. He feels like a screwup, so he deliberately screws up even more. And makes more people angry with him, which is what he feels he deserves. Into this maelstrom comes Fallon, a fellow sixth-grader whose face bears a large and mysterious scar. For some reason, she seems to like spending time with Trent and—almost against his will—he starts to like spending time with her. Graff takes readers through Trent’s gradual process of coming to terms with the tragic accident and his recognition that, while he can’t change the past, he can control his present behavior to influence his future. While Trent makes multiple bad decisions and his impulsivity is a constant liability, he’s also funny, sensitive, and kind. Fallon is a firecracker and the two of them are a lot of fun together. It’s a mark of Graff’s skill that readers can easily discern and appreciate complexities behind the behaviors of every character in the novel without having them explicitly delineated. VERDICT Weighty matters deftly handled with humor and grace will give this book wide appeal.

–Miriam Lang Budin, Chappaqua Library, NY

redstarHubbard, Kirsten. Watch the Sky. 272p. Disney-Hyperion. Apr. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781484708330.

Gr 4-6 –Jory’s family has secrets. Not exciting we’re-wizards-or-superheroes secrets, but ominous something-bad-is-coming secrets. “Signs are everywhere,” says his stepfather Caleb. But signs of what? Twelve-year-old Jory and his younger siblings aren’t given an explanation. Caleb’s paranoia isolates the family through grueling preparations for a catastrophic event just as a new friend and a caring teacher open up Jory’s world. He learns to think for himself and begins to question the well-intentioned secrets that have dominated his family’s life. Caleb’s tightening grip is on a collision course with Jory’s expanding views and reaches a crisis in an emotionally charged standoff at the novel’s climax. Which man, Jory or Caleb, knows what is best for the family? Strong characters drive the carefully crafted novel and readers feel and understand their conflicts. Caleb is no villain but a sympathetic, tragic figure, misguided but sincere in the desire to keep his family safe. It’s clear why Jory’s mother, loving but fragile, married him. Sister Kit, an enigma to everyone but her brother, embodies the novel’s otherworldly feel. Readers can’t help but root for Jory as he warily lets his guard down, discovering the simple joys of friendship and that the outside world isn’t something to be feared. Hubbard’s sparse, elegant prose captures the rural landscape’s desolate beauty as well as its dangers and palpably expresses the family’s escalating tensions. VERDICT Unanswered questions will intrigue readers in this atmospheric, ultimately hopeful novel.–Marybeth Kozikowski, Sachem Public Library, Holbrook, NY

redstarLawson, Jessica. Nooks & Crannies. 336p. S. & S. Jun. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781481419215; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9781481419239.

Gr 4-7 –Tabitha Crum and her sidekick, a mouse named Pemberley, love a good mystery. Luckily, she has so many in her life: why don’t her parents love her? What will she do when they abandon her at the local orphanage? Why has she, of all people, been invited to spend the weekend at the estate of the reclusive Countess Camilla DeMoss? It is soon revealed that Tabitha, along with five other children, might be the long-lost grandchild of the eccentric Countess, thus inheriting her large fortune. However, it becomes clear that all is not what it seems at Hollingsworth Hall. Why does the Countess always carry knives? What really happened to the Countess’ dead son? Are there ghosts at the Hall? When the electricity goes out and a dead body turns up, the whole house goes into a panic. But the biggest mystery of all is: who is the true heir to the fortune? While the story certainly gets its inspiration from many places—Roald Dahl, Trenton Lee Stewart, and Scooby Doo—the way in which it is told is original, engaging, and funny. Tabitha is a smart, plucky heroine whom readers will get behind: they’ll cry with her when she feels unloved, they’ll be scared with her in the dark, and they’ll cheer when she wins in the end. The writing is beautiful, expertly capturing all the suspense, hope, and love in the story. The conclusion is satisfying but, thankfully, with the possibility of further adventures. VERDICT A delightful gem that will fly off the shelves.–Laura Lutz, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City

redstarSpiegelman, Nadja. Lost in NYC: A Subway Adventure. ISBN 9781935179818.

––––. Perdidos en NYC: una aventura en el metro. tr. by Lola Moral. Spanish ed. ISBN 9781935179856.

ea vol: illus. by Sergio Garcia Sanchez. 52p. TOON Graphic. Apr. 2015. Tr. $16.95.

Gr 4-7 –New York City’s quintessential sights and sounds and hustle and bustle are beautifully captured in this exciting graphic novel. Lost in NYC unfolds via multiple adventures. First, there’s Pablo, the new kid in school. His smart and resourceful classmate Alicia offers to be his partner on the class field trip to the Empire State Building. The students will be taking the subway there, so before setting off, Mr. Bartle dives into an engrossing history lesson about the Empire State Building and the construction of New York City’s subway system. Spiegelman and García Sánchez’s set the narrative tone and demonstrate artistic mastery in an opening spread that uses a 3-D-like cartoon effect to illustrate Mr. Bartle and his students sitting atop and inside a map of Manhattan, “dissecting” and going “underground” to explore the subway system beneath. Seamlessly woven into the illustration and text are historical photographs that depict how tunnels and trenches were constructed to build the subway system. The storytelling is kinetic. The text moves along visual lines, following subway platforms that both ascend and descend. This technique is paired with illustrations that evoke the sensations of walking Manhattan’s densely crowded and diverse streets. Readers see the stacks of yellow cabs, the buskers singing, the skyscrapers carving corridors of blue sky, and even some famous tags by New York’s finest graffiti artists. This a love song to the the city that never sleeps as well as a solid friendship story. Paired with robust, detailed historical notes and an engaging Spanish translation by Moral, this book is sure to be a hit with kids and their adults. VERDICT Recommended for all collections.–Lettycia Terrones, California State University, Pollak Library, Fullerton , CA

The following titles are reviewed in this month's print issue:

Banks, Kate & Rupert Sheldrake. Boy’s Best Friend. 224p. ebook available. Farrar. Jul. 2015. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9780374380083; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780374380090.

Baptiste, Tracey. The Jumbies. 240p. Algonquin. Apr. 2015. Tr $15.95. ISBN 9781616204143.

Baskin, Nora Raleigh. Ruby on the Outside. 176p. ebook available. S. & S. Jun. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781442485037; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9781442485051.

Blakemore, Megan Frazer. The Friendship Riddle. 368p. ebook available. Bloomsbury. May 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781619636309.

Bodeen, S.A. Lost. 144p. (Shipwreck Island: Bk. 2). ebook available. Feiwel & Friends. Jul. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781250027795.

Cody, Matthew. Villainous. 320p. (Powerless: Bk. 3). Knopf. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780385754897; lib. ed. $19.99. ISBN 9780385754903; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780385754910. LC 2013029701.

Cooper, Rose. I Text Dead People. 256p. Delacorte. Jun. 2015. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9780385743914; lib. ed. $15.99. ISBN 9780375991387; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780385373210. LC 2014020235.

Coville, Bruce. Goblins on the Prowl. 272p. S. & S./Aladdin. Jun. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781416914402; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9781481441285.

Dairman, Tara. The Stars of Summer. 331p. Putnam. May 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780399170690; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780698173675.

Everest, D.D. Archie Greene and the Magician’s Secret. 320p. HarperCollins. Apr. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062312112.

Jensen, Jeff & others. Before Tomorrowland. illus. by Jonathan Case. 336p. Disney. Apr. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781484704219.

Kästner, Erich. The Flying Classroom. tr. from German by Anthea Bell. illus. by Walter Trier. 176p. Pushkin. 2015. pap. $13.95. ISBN 9781782690566.

Lettrick, Robert. The Murk. 320p. Disney-Hyperion. Apr. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781423186953; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9781484719398.

Lewis, J. Patrick. The Wren and the Sparrow. illus. by Yevgenia Nayberg. 32p. (Holiday Origami Series). Kar-Ben. 2015. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781467719513; pap. $7.95. ISBN 9781467719520; ebk. $6.99. ISBN 9781467762106. LC 2013021757.

Mackler, Carolyn. Best Friend Next Door. 224p. Scholastic. Jun. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780545709446; ebk. $16.99. ISBN 9780545709477.

Patterson, James & Chris Tebbetts. Public School Superhero. 304p. ebook available. Little, Brown. 2015. Tr $13.99. ISBN 9781478953852. LC PZ7.P27653Ken.

Pflugfelder, “Science Bob” & Steve Hockensmith. Nick and Tesla’s Special Effects Spectacular: A Mystery with Animatronics, Alien Makeup, Camera Gear, and Other Movie Magic You Can Make Yourself! 256p. (Nick and Tesla: Bk. 5). ebook available. Quirk. May 2015. Tr $12.95. ISBN 9781594747601.

Sage, Angie. Gargoyle Hall. illus. by John Kelly. 288p. (Araminta Spookie: Bk. 6). Bloomsbury. Aug. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781619636262.

Scott, Dan. Gladiator School: Blood Oath. 208p. (Gladiator School: Bk. 1). Book House/Scribo. Jun. 2015. pap. $6.95. ISBN 9781908177483.

Sharenow, Robert. The Girl in the Torch. 304p. ebook available. HarperCollins. May 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062227959.

Shreve, Susan. The Search for Baby Ruby. 224p. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Bks. May 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780545417839; ebk. $16.99. ISBN 9780545825726.

VAN Dolzer, Krista. The Sound of Life and Everything. 272p. Putnam. May 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780399167751; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780698175044. LC 2014015975.

Vaughan, M.M. Six. 368p. S. & S./Margaret K. McElderry Bks. May 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781481420693; ebk. ISBN 9781481420716.

Graphic Novels

Aguirre, Jorge. Dragons Beware! illus. by Rafel Rosado. 160p. First Second. May 2015. pap. $14.99. ISBN 9781596438781.

Fred. The Wild Piano: A Philemon Adventure. illus. by Richard Kutner. 48p. TOON Graphic. May 2015. Tr $16.95. ISBN 9781935179832.

Peirce, Lincoln. Say Good-bye to Dork City. illus. by Lincoln Peirce. 224p. (Big Nate). Andrews McMeel. 2015. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9781449462253.

This article was published in School Library Journal's April 2015 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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