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Hogwarts, Gallifrey, EarthSea, Smekland

806, by Weil

806806 by Cynthia Weil
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Ready-made for a Disney TV movie. Meh.

I was so excited to pick up this book that promised to be a rock-n-roll road trip in search of the truth: Just in time for this year’s summer reading theme, Libraries Rock. And Weil tackles a worthy theme: teens who were conceived by their moms via anonymous sperm donation, who have reasons to want to know the identity of their biological dad. A trio of otherwise mismatched kids pulls together to follow their quest.

These kids are awful. They repeatedly lie to their parents, break into a facility and steal documents, steal a car, steal from the police, kidnap a caddy at a golf tournament, and more. They do not get in any trouble. They do not seem to have any sense that what they are doing is wrong or illegal. In the end, everything gets tied up neatly with a big bow – everyone gets everything they want, including a fantasy reuniting of previously divorcing parents, the “bio dad” falling in love with one of the kid’s moms, and the chance to play guitar with a nationally known band on a major stage. Oh, and a teenage girl relents and falls in love with her very creepy stalker.

Possibly recommended to readers of novelizations of television programs. Similar in feel to Hannah Montana, The Parent Trap, etc.

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Day at the Beach, by Booth

Day at the BeachDay at the Beach by Tom Booth
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a book about older and younger siblings. Gideon and Audrey always build together when they go to the beach. Older brother Gideon feels held back by baby sister Audrey and, this year, he plans to set off solo and create his masterpiece. Gideon’s feelings are realistic (even if they aren’t very nice). This book tackles a topic that most families go through.

Tom Booth’s illustrations are great. From page to page, the viewer’s perspective changes: we see the beach from above, we see Gideon’s memories of summers past through the haze of time, we see Gideon’s plans for his sand castle extraordinaire as if through his own eyes. Also, Gideon is admirable in that, each time wind, rain, waves, or volleyball knock down his castle, he starts again without a fuss.

Though what this book is trying to convey is admirable, it does not succeed. Gideon learns a lesson about having fun with the people you love, but it all happens off the page. There’s no character development for a young reader to follow. And there are no consequences. Gideon meanly dismisses his sister, builds the castle of his dreams, is celebrated by everyone on the beach, and then is welcomed back by his little sister. He never apologizes or says anything kind to her.

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The Secret of the Purple Lake, by Badoe

The Secret of the Purple LakeThe Secret of the Purple Lake by Yaba Badoe
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is from Cassava Republic out of Nigeria. They publish works for children and adults that showcase a broad variety of quality modern African literature.

In this book, Badoe shares five stories of quest, destiny, and magic that take the reader all over the world, from Ghana to the Orkneys to Spain, and more. Each story follows a person who needs to find his or her right place in the world and each story is connected. The main characters in one are the supporting characters of another – We all are connected through time and despite distances. It is definitely unique and fun to read these folktale-feeling stories but have them span time, space, and cultures.

The writing is easy to follow, the font is large with plenty of white space on the page, and there are periodic black and white illustrations, perfect for upper elementary age readers.

The telling of these stores has an old-fashioned feel, which may or may not appeal to today’s middle grade readers. The tales themselves are also harsh, with one young girl having to give up her future to retrieve her father’s bones, a boy turned into a monster to punish him for his pride and ambition, a mother exiled and daughters left untended, etc. Fans of Greek mythology and all its brutality will like these tales; readers who balk at hard consequences may not.

Recommended for children and teachers looking to have an opportunity to read works by current authors originating from Africa, readers who enjoy adventure and origin stories.

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Tye Muskox and the Caribou, by Mike

The Muskox and the Caribou (English)The Muskox and the Caribou by Nadia Mike
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tamara Campeau’s illustrations beautifully evoke the Arctic habitat in which the caribou and musk oxen live. The herds are shown grazing for berries and lichen on the tundra. The young animals are big-eyed and beautiful.

At its core, this is a version of The Ugly Duckling. Mother Caribou discovers a baby musk ox that has become separated from its herd and takes it in to raise with her own caribou baby. This is not a warm-hearted story of a loving adopted family: as with the Andersen fairy tale, the young caribou never take to the musk ox, and, if not for the kindness and caring of Mother Caribou, the musk ox’s life would be dismal, indeed. Resolution comes when the musk ox is nearly grown and his caribou herd crosses paths with a musk ox herd.

The illustration on the front cover might lead one to think that this is a lovely tale of friendship. It is not. The young caribou are quite mean.

This would be a welcome addition to any class studying Canadian wildlife or ecosystems, or for story times featuring variations on classic fairy tales. It could also spark conversations on how we might welcome strangers into our communities.

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Countdown City, by Winters

Countdown City (The Last Policeman, #2)Countdown City by Ben H. Winters
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoy Ben Winters’ writing, even though I don’t like the places he imagines. Book 2 of this series was much more enjoyable for me, as I stopped expecting science fiction and relaxed into the police procedural. Palace is an endearing and believable protagonist.

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Things That Make White People Uncomfortable, by Bennett

Things That Make White People UncomfortableThings That Make White People Uncomfortable by Michael Bennett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Though I have read a number of books that tackle these same topics, I am especially appreciative of this one – because Bennett is a famous football player, I anticipate that there will be readers drawn to this book who might not otherwise pick up a text centering on race and class issues in today’s America.

p. xx “It makes some people so angry to see us taking a stand (or taking a knee). I get that they watch football to escape, and they view us as entertainers . . . But we aren’t machines. We are human beings, and we aren’t paid to stand for an anthem . . .”

p. 94 “We understand that because of technology and social media, we can play a role in shaping this future. Ten of us in a room can reach fifty million people. That’s power, and we take it seriously. We also know this is why the big sports media networks, as well as the NFL, police and scrutinize our platform so hard. They want us to be brands, not men. They want us to keep it to sports – . . . but at the end of the day, we’re human beings, we’re not just equipment.”

p.144 “That is why I support the Black Lives Matter movement, because it helps people realize their worth. . . . It’s about resisting the “New Jim Crow,” a social system that has created a parallel, separate, and unequal America, defined by mass incarceration, unemployment, and substandard food and education.”

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If We Had Known, by Juska

If We Had KnownIf We Had Known by Elise Juska
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Two books in a row about mass shootings. (This one and How to Be Safe.) Both focusing on the aftermath, both with smart female protagonists who also were teachers and had their lives and careers derailed, both good in different ways.

How To Be Safe has a more biting style, mixing in dark humor. There were times when I found it hard to believe the convincing female main character was written by a man. She was so real. McAllister portrays the hysteria and the fictions the media and the populace jump to following each one of the many gun tragedies our country has been going through. He takes everything you’ve probably been thinking and puts it all out on paper.

If We had Known has a slower, more serious, thoughtful pace. Following an attack and suicide at a local mall, people who once knew the killer search for signs they may have missed, ways they might have been able to prevent it. It’s not long before fingers are pointed and someone is sacrificed so that the public can feel that someone has been held responsible and they can move on.

Both are about hysteria, falsehoods, sexism, and scapegoating. Both are very good and worth reading. Neither will make you feel any better.

Also: It is not good for me to read stories with detailed descriptions of anorexic behavior, even all these years later. The brain is a terrible thing.

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