MG – Stand Up, Yumi Chung!

Kim, Jessica. Stand Up, Yumi Chung! Kokila, 2020. 978-0-525-55497-4. 306 p. $14.81. Grades 3-6.

A sleek pixie cut is just the change Yumi Chung needs to start seventh grade. What she gets, instead, is the perm her mother wants. Such is the life of Yumi Chung–overruled by the adults in her life at every turn. So when she hears her family can no longer afford to send her to her private school, Yumi is elated. But her thoughts of freedom are short lived as her mother informs her that she will have to ace the Secondary School Admission Test in two weeks in order to get a scholarship. Instead of the summer Yumi had planned–watching Youtube videos of her favorite comedian, Jasmine Jasper, and writing jokes in her Super-Secret Comedy Notebook–she will now have to attend tutoring sessions in order to pass the test. One afternoon as she is leaving tutoring, she stumbles upon a new comedy club in her neighborhood, and it is offering a comedy camp for teens taught by none other than Jasmine Jasper. A case of mistaken identity finds Yumi attending the camp and having the time of her life. But when she is found out, how will Yumi explain to her parents, her fellow comedy campers, and Jasmine Jasper? Will shy Yumi Chung finally find her voice and stand up for herself?

THOUGHTS: Middle grade students will sympathize with Yumi. She is picked on at school, she has an older sister who is an actual genius who she is always being compared to, and her parents refuse to listen to what Yumi wants. Stand Up, Yumi Chung! is an Own Voices novel about family and friends that stands out in the crowd.

Realistic Fiction          Melissa Johnston, North Allegheny SD

Yumi Chung’s goal in life is to become a stand-up comedian. That vision does not fit with her traditional Korean-American family who value hard work (see their struggles to maintain their Korean barbeque restaurant in a gentrified neighborhood) and education (see their older, more perfect daughter who excelled at school and now is on track to becoming a doctor). Yumi sees her family’s financial difficulties as a way out of attending the posh private school where she has no friends and finally being able to reinvent herself. No such luck! Mrs. Chung persuades the principal of Winston Preparatory Academy to give Yumi a chance at winning a scholarship. She only has to cram for it at a Korean prep class with Mrs. Pak. Turns out the hogwon is right near a comedy class for young people hosted by Yumi’s Youtube  idol, Jasmine Jasper. Yumi inserts herself into the class through a case of mistaken identity. Author Jessica Kim blends just the right amount of pathos and humor to make Stand Up, Yumi Chung! a entertaining read. Drawn by her desire to make people laugh and perform, Yumi gets sucked into a web of lies that are difficult to unravel. While she is busy making a mess and cleaning up after herself, she forms a stronger bond with the sister she used to envy and a clearer understanding and appreciation of her parents’ sacrifices and efforts. She also is able to make her dreams come true by boosting the business at her parents’ failing restaurant with a series of schemes to promote it, including a comedy night. Lots of lessons threaded throughout this story make it endearing to a wide audience: self-identity, problem solving, appreciation of family, and the importance of trying after failing.

THOUGHTS: The hunt for a solid story that infuses humor­­­­­­­ is hard to find (Front Desk by Kelly Yang and It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel! by Firoozeh Dumas comes to mind). Stand Up, Yumi Chung! can be in that category. A reader doesn’t need to be Korean-American to appreciate the pressure to fulfill a parent’s dreams, but the Asian references will resonate with Asian-American students and educate non Asian-American ones. The rabbit hole Yumi falls down is relatable to any middle school student floundering with being impulsive and making decisions.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

Elem. – Rating Your Bunkmates and Other Camp Crimes

Orr, Jennifer. Rating Your Bunkmates and Other Camp Crimes. Capstone Editions, 2020. 978-1-68446-077-9. 239 p. $16.95. Grades 3-6.

Abigail Hensley is a twelve-year old genius who knows a lot about everything – anthropology, criminal trials, even the French language. Skipping two grades in school means she knows a lot more than other girls her age. Abigail also knows herself – she doesn’t like others intruding on her personal space and she has a definite aversion to germs. The one topic Abigail doesn’t know much about is how to make real friends. All of that is going to change, however, when she arrives at Camp Hollyhock, determined to make a real friend for the first time in her life. Like any good anthropologist, Abigail uses scientific research methods and writes detailed notes as she studies her cabinmates for their sidekick potential. Although her observations are off to a good start, she is thrown off from her meticulous plans when a crime is committed in her own cabin – and she becomes the prime suspect. Abigail has to use her research methods and observations so she can clear her name and hopefully make a friend before her time at camp is done, even if the answers she seeks may be the opposite of what she thinks.

THOUGHTS: Although author Jennifer Orr doesn’t make it clear in the book, Abigail could be on the autism spectrum, which is evident as she hates invasion of her personal space and struggles to understand social norms. However, Abigail’s journey to make a friend can ring true for any middle grade reader, genius or not. Her scientific commentary on the nuances of young female friendships are humorous yet relatable. All readers can understand that friendship may not be an exact science, but when the elements align, it can be quite wonderful.

Mystery Fiction          Danielle Corrao, Ephrata Area SD

Picture Books – William’s Winter Nap; Back to School Bigfoot; Groundhug Day; 100 Things I Love…

Ashman, Linda. William’s Winter Nap. Disney Hyperion, 2017. 978-148472282-4. Unpaged. $17.99. Gr. PreK-2.

On a cold winter night, a boy name William is ready to settle into his warm, cozy bed when he is awakened by a tapping on the window.  It turns out to be a chipmunk who is seeking shelter from the cold, so William makes room in his bed for the chipmunk, and the two settle in. Before long, they are awakened by a porcupine knocking at the door.  The porcupine is also looking for a warm place to spend the night, so William and the chipmunk make room for the porcupine before going back to sleep.  This trend continues until the bed fills up, at which point an extremely large animal shows up at the door.  The group must decide if they can make enough room or if they are going to turn the animal away.  Beautiful illustrations and well-paced rhymes make this an endearing choice for young readers. THOUGHTS: Although this book may not have any obvious curricular connections, it could definitely serve as an introduction to many relevant topics.  For instance, because the last line reads “I’ll see you in the warm spring light,” it could be used to introduce the concept of hibernation.  Also, it would be a great discussion starter for emphasizing the importance of hospitality and generosity towards others.  Lastly, this would be a great title to read aloud and encourage young children to make predictions based on context clues.  Will they let the last animal in?  Why or why not?  If so, how will they make room?  A very delightful and engaging selection that is definitely a solid purchase for most libraries.

Picture Book      Julie Ritter, Montoursville Area SD

 

Berger, Samantha and Martha Brockenbrough. Back to School with Bigfoot. Arthur A. Levine Books, 2017. 9780545859738. Unpaged. $16.99. Gr. PreK-2.

Berger and Brockenbrough have teamed up to create an amusing version of the back-to-school story. Told in first person by Bigfoot himself, the book tells the story of Bigfoot preparing for a new school year. He has a lot of worries, such as whether he can stand still for a class picture or find clothes that fit.  Just when he has made up his mind that he should not go back, he begins thinking about all that he might miss, like a school field trip and his friends.  Bigfoot happily returns and in his haste, he breaks through the front door.  The book design helps make this book a great read aloud, as some words are highlighted in a larger font and beg to be emphasized.  Dave Pressler’s illustrations are over the top funny and the drawing of Bigfoot’s family at the graduation ceremony is priceless. Children will ask for this book to be read again and again.  THOUGHTS:  This work is a great addition to elementary libraries for their back-to-school collections.

Picture Book         Denise Medwick, West Allegheny School District

 

Pace, Anne Marie. Groundhug Day. Disney Book Group, 2017. 9781484753569. $17.99. 32p. Gr. PreK-2.

Moose wants to plan a Valentine’s Day party with his friends. The problem is that one of his friends is Groundhog. Moose, Squirrel, Porcupine, and Rabbit are worried that if Groundhog sees his shadow on Groundhog Day he’ll go back to sleep for six more weeks and miss the big Valentine’s Day party. They all come up with a different idea on how they can stop Groundhog from seeing his shadow and spend all night arguing about it. Because they never get to enact one of their ideas, Groundhog sees his shadow and hurriedly goes back into his house. It turns out Groundhog is afraid of shadows, but with his friends’ help, he sees all the ways shadows can be fun. Unfortunately, he still won’t make it to the big party since it isn’t warm enough for him above ground yet. His friends understand as he goes back home to hibernate for another six weeks – and comes back out just in time for St. Patrick’s Day! But now Bunny is missing! THOUGHTS: This picture book is a nice Groundhog’s Day addition to your library for the illustrations alone, but the story will also be appreciated by young readers. And there’s a clever ending that involves the final picture of Bunny on the last page (he is painting Easter Eggs).

Picture Book      Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD

 

Schwartz, Amy. 100 Things I Love to Do with You. Abrams Appleseed, 2017. 9781419722882. $16.95. 40p. Gr. PreK-1.

100 Things I Love to Do with You is literally a picture book filled with simple illustrations of one-hundred activities that young readers can do with their parents/guardians or friends.  THOUGHTS: This is a book that contains activities like make mud pies, help the sun rise, hop like bunnies. I can imagine an adult asking the child to act out some of the activities as they go through the book (although they can’t all be acted out). Some pages have only one activity listed with a big illustration and some pages have, two, three, or four activities on each page. The illustrations were average.

Picture Book    Bridget Fox, Central Bucks SD

MS Fiction – See You in the Cosmos; Ashes to Asheville; Real Friends; All’s Faire in MS; Goldie Vance

Cheng, Jack. See You in the Cosmos. Dial Books, 2017. 978-0399-186370. $16.99. 314 pp. Gr. 5-8.

Alex Petrowski will tell you a lot about himself.  He loves astronomy, and he named his dog after his hero, Carl Sagan.  He plans to launch his rocket with recordings of himself on his ‘golden iPod.’ His dad died when he was too young to remember him, and his older brother Ronnie lives in L.A.  Ronnie doesn’t visit much, but he keeps track of their bills.  Alex is eleven but “more like thirteen in responsibility years,” considering he cooks and cares for Carl Sagan and his mom, who has a lot of quiet days and who doesn’t work or drive, and everything’s ok if he just stays out of her way.  So Alex begins the trip alone to the Albuquerque, NM, annual rocket launch and finds himself meeting many new people, considering many new things, and finding new friends.  A couple of recordings he wants to include on his iPod are of people in love, and it takes a while to discover just who that might be.  His launch is a failure, but with two helpful adults, he detours to Las Vegas to discover why his dad’s name and birthdate shows up at an address there.  He finds a family surprise, heads to L.A. for Ronnie, then back home where his mom has disappeared and an accident lands him in the hospital under social services radar.  Reminiscent of Counting by 7’s by Holly Goldberg Sloan for the bright, unflinchingly open narrator who navigates the world with autism and high amounts of optimism.  THOUGHTS: A thoughtful look at honesty, family and love, and what sacrifice and adulthood mean.  This is an unusual read for tweens who want something fresh and different.

Realistic Fiction     Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

 

Dooley, Sarah. Ashes to Asheville.  G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2017. 978-0399-165047.  $16.99.  243 pp. Gr. 5-8.

Fella is hurting from the all-to-recent death of her Mama Lacy.  Her grandmother, Mrs. Madison, fought for custody of Fella, and the courts granted it, despite the fact that Fella has another mother, Mama Shannon, and sister, Zany.  Fella is still grieving and feeling out of place when late one night, Zany creeps into Mrs. Madison’s house and steals Mama Lacy’s ashes from the mantel then takes Fella and Mrs. Madison’s poodle with her.  Zany is on a mission to scatter Mama Lacy’s ashes in the last place she was happy, their old house in Asheville.  Fella isn’t so sure this is a good idea, isn’t sure she’s ready, and isn’t even fully dressed.  And so begins a road trip filled with difficult weather, an injured poodle, a thieving & grieving teenager, and too many stops along the way.  Zany, Fella, Mama Shannon, and Mrs. Madison are on track to come to terms with their loss if they can ever say what they really think and feel to each other.  THOUGHTS: This is a disappointing follow-up to Dooley’s deeply felt Free Verse (2016). The writing is slow, even for a road trip, and although the adults seem realistic enough, the sisters never fully gel.  

Realistic Fiction     Melissa Scott, Shenango Area School District

 

Hale, Shannon and LeUyen Pham. Real Friends. First Second Books, 2017. 978-162672-4167. $21.99.  207 pp. Gr. 5-9.  

Together, author Shannon Hale and illustrator LeUyen Pham deliver a wonderfully and tragically realistic tale of navigating friendships.  Based on Hale’s own experience and divided by her 2nd-6th grade school years and her significant friends, readers see the perfection of being understood by a best friend, the pain of a best friend moving, the tightrope-walking of being part of ‘the group,’ the pain of stigmatization, and hope from the potential for change.  Pham’s illustrations perfectly illuminate young Shannon’s emotions and thoughts.  Anyone who has ever had a best friend, struggled to make friends, been the outsider, or wondered where they fit in will find insight in this tough but smart book.  As Hale concludes: “Friendship in younger years can be especially hard because our worlds are small….If you haven’t found your ‘group’ yet, hang in there.  Your world will keep growing larger and wider.  You deserve to have real friends, the kind who treat you well and get how amazing you are.”  THOUGHTS: This will appeal to nearly every student in upper elementary or middle school and could help to give needed perspective about navigating friendships, however fulfilling or painful.   

Graphic Novel; Realistic Fiction      Melissa Scott, Shenango Area SD

 

Jamieson, Victoria. All’s Faire in Middle School. 978-0-5254-29988-2. 248 p. $20.99. Gr. 4-8.

Imogen’s entire family works at the Florida Renaissance Faire, and she and her brother have been  homeschooled there her entire life. Imogene decides that for 6th grade, she wants to go to middle school. Excited and nervous, Imogene navigates new friendships, mean teachers, confusing bullies, and social norms while trying to find a place to fit in. And while she has grown up at and loves the Renaissance Faire, she finds that fitting in might mean hiding something that’s a huge part of her. THOUGHTS: Another uniquely excellent from the author of Roller Girls. You won’t be able to keep this graphic novel on the shelves!

Graphic Novel; Realistic Fiction     Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School

I book talked this graphic novel that the beginning of the school year to our middle schoolers, and it has been consistently checked out ever since. I think kids really respond to Victoria Jamieson’s art and see themselves in the characters she creates. Our 6th graders also take a field trip to the Renaissance Faire, so many students seem interested in the content because of this. Overall, an excellent addition to our collection this year that I can’t recommend enough.

 

Larson, Hope. Goldie Vance, Volume 2. Boom! Box, 2017. 978-1-6088-6974-9. 112 p. $14.99. Gr. 6-9.

Goldie Vance returns in the second installment of this fun, retro detective series. Goldie is still working at her father’s Palm Springs resort as a valet and solving mysteries on the side. This time, a mysterious woman, wearing a spacesuit, is found on the resort beach with no memory of how she got there. While Goldie and the resort detective Walt try to track down this woman’s identity, Goldie’s best friend Cheryl grows distant, and Goldie realizes she’s hiding some secrets of her own. Goldie is determined to solve the mystery and get her best friend back. THOUGHTS: It’s refreshing to see a graphic novel that celebrates girl-on-girl crushes and diverse skin tones and body sizes. Another excellent addition to any graphic novel collection from Hope Larson.

Graphic Novel; Mystery     Vicki Schwoebel, Friends’ Central School