March 18, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Middle Grade Xpress Reviews | February 2017

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Frederick, Heather Vogel. Yours Truly. 336p. ebook available. S. & S. Jan. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781442471863.

Gr 4-8 –Pumpkin Falls, NH, is a long way from Austin, TX, but it is the place that Truly Lovejoy and her family now call home. It’s where her dad’s family is from, and when her father was injured in the war in Afghanistan, it’s where they returned to be part of the family business, Lovejoy’s Books. Mackenzie, Truly’s cousin, is visiting from Texas and wants Truly to show her around the town. At this time of year, the biggest thing going on is the Maple Fest. The syrup is flowing, and the town is beset by tourists eager to soak up the charm of quaint Pumpkin Falls. However, someone is sabotaging the maple tree taps, and tensions are rising as people start suspecting one another. The protagonist and her friends resurrect Pumpkin Falls Private Eyes, which originated in Absolutely Truly, in order to investigate. In the meantime Truly and Mackenzie unearth another mystery: a diary left behind by the protagonist’s ancestor, the original Truly. As the kids search for the story behind the diary, they begin to wonder if it ties into anything that is currently going on in Pumpkin Falls. Fans of the first book will not be disappointed in this mystery, while new readers will fall in love with Truly and her family as they cope with all the excitement and mystery in Pumpkin Falls. VERDICT A well-written and engaging light mystery. Recommended for most school and public library middle grade collections.–Laura Fields Eason, Parker Bennett Curry Elementary School, Bowling Green, KY

Pratchett, Terry. The Witch’s Vacuum Cleaner and Other Stories. 256p. ebook available. little bee. Jan. 2017. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780062653116.

Gr 3-6 –A magical vacuum cleaner, a time-traveling television, airships, feuds, wars, scandals, and gnomes are but a few of the magical conundrums and characters in this collection. Each story is well-developed, engaging, and complex. Laced with the humor only Pratchett can deliver, this volume of tales is a great way to remember the late author’s writing style. Some of the characters’ names, when read aloud, are even good for a laugh. Quirky footnotes, text that pops off the page, and memorable scenes draw readers deep into Pratchett’s world. VERDICT This is a must-read for any fantasy, adventure, or Pratchett fan—and a great way to introduce his writings to a new generation.–Kira Moody, Whitmore Public Library, Salt Lake City

Riley, James. Secret Origins. 384p. (Story Thieves: Bk. 3). ebook available. S. & S./Aladdin. Jan. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481461252.

Gr 4-6 –Bethany and Owen have sworn not to go into the fictional world anymore. It is dangerous, and the evil Nobody, the man without a face, has threatened them if they come back. But when Bethany discovers a mysterious man watching her house, she is determined to track him down and find out why. And she just needs a few tools from the fictional world to help her. When Bethany and Owen arrive at the man’s house, they find a portal into a comic book world and several superheroes and supervillains, one of whom just might be Bethany’s dad. Riley doesn’t disappoint in this thrilling continuation of the series. VERDICT Full of pithy puns, plays on words, and lots of action, this latest installment is sure to please fans.–Terry Ann Lawler, Burton Barr Library, Phoenix

Rosenberg, Aaron. Blackout: Danger in the Dark. ISBN 9781438009216.

––––. Flood: Race Against Time. ISBN 9781438008059.

ea vol: illus. by Deb Gross. 224p. (S.T.E.M. Squad). ebook available. Barron’s. Oct. 2016. pap. $7.99.

Gr 4-6 –Science fiction author and game designer Rosenberg introduces the “S.T.E.M. Squad” adventures. Five culturally diverse high school freshmen are specially selected for a science class that meets below a hologram in the school basement. They are led on field trips by an affable but mysterious teacher who often speaks with a chimp sidekick—a former NASA astronaut who “drives” the autonomous school bus. There is also a fervent 18-year-old ROTC teacher’s aide. In Blackout, a power outage during an overnight stay at the Museum of Natural History leads to a tour of an alternative energy plant. After several lectures on the history and development of various options, the students return to the museum to assist the energy experts in installing solar panels and a water filtration system for the museum—all in one afternoon. In Flood, the students help sandbag rising waters after intense rains, but a flash flood maroons them, and they must use teamwork to find a resolution. In addition to the heroic ensemble, there are scientists, the teacher’s aunt, and many more characters who are barely developed beyond a mention of their physical features. Despite the protagonists being in high school, this series is squarely aimed at elementary school students. The cover art and interior illustrations of the characters depict them more like cherubic fifth graders than teens. Definition blocks for words such as momentum and amphibians are sprinkled throughout, although Blackout has many more technical passages. Each title includes 30 multiple choice comprehension questions, a discussion guide, and annotated lists of STEM professions and STEM tools. There are also lists of Internet resources for added investigation. VERDICT Though these offerings are educational, the intended audience is debatable and the quick resolutions may be misleading.–Gay Lynn Van Vleck, Henrico County Library, Glen Allen, VA

This article was published in School Library Journal's February 2017 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.