April 23, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Middle Grade Xpress Reviews | March 2017

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1703_Xpress_MGredstarAlmond, David. Harry Miller’s Run. illus. by Salvatore Rubbino. 64p. Candlewick. Feb. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780763689759.

Gr 4-6 –In this charming generational tale, elderly, frail Harry Miller shares a piece of his past with 11-year old Liam and his kindly mother, who are helping Harry pack up his home and move into a nursing home. Liam has been training for the Junior Great Northern Run, a short version of the now-famous annual half-marathon from Newcastle upon Tyne to South Shields, England. Seeing Liam in his race entry T-shirt prompts Harry to recall a hot April day in 1938 when he, at age 11, and two friends spontaneously and exuberantly embarked on the same run just to cool off with a swim in the North Sea. Along the way, they met Veronica, a spunky lass who joined their adventure, and Mr. Gabrieli, the ice-cream maker, who gave them all huge treats and handmade certificates for their 13-mile accomplishment. Harry revisits his past between naps and cups of tea while Liam and his mother sort through a box of photographs that spark Harry’s memory, reveal his younger self, and hint at a longer, deeper relationship with Veronica. When Liam and his friend run the race a week later, after Harry’s death, Liam’s youthful jubilation matches Harry’s fond reminisce. Liam delivers an engaging narration infused with delightful Briticisms and understated, sensitive observations. Like Liam, middle grade readers will begin to see Harry not as a quirky, failing old man but as a once-spirited boy who loved life. Rubbino’s lively watercolor illustrations enhance the tale’s warmth and contrasts, depicting Harry’s vivid recollections in bright colors and current happenings in a gray wash. VERDICT Once again, Almond’s masterly evocation of place, time, relationships, and indomitable spirit is superb. An excellent addition to middle grade fiction collections.–Gerry Larson, formerly at Durham School of the Arts, NC

Clark, Paul Sleman. Spenser’s Story of the Constitution. illus. by Ray Driver. 126p. ebook available. Ozymandias. Aug. 2016. pap. $6.99. ISBN 9780692760994.

Gr 4-6 –As a fictional caretaker of the State House in Philadelphia, Spenser the cat witnessed a lot of history being made and counted many famous people as his friends. Spenser retells the story behind the U.S. Constitution for middle graders. In May 1787, 55 delegates met in Philadelphia to write a new governing document for the 13 states. The existing Articles of Confederation was weak—they didn’t allow for collection of taxes and didn’t provide for a strong central government. States with large populations proposed that the new governing legislature be selected by population. This was opposed by smaller states. Spenser describes how he came up with an idea that appeases all parties: the Great Compromise. Throughout the narrative, Spenser offers background on figures such as Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, Edmund Randolph, William Paterson, and Benjamin Franklin. Brief sketches of the Founding Fathers and Spenser are scattered throughout the work, and back matter includes the Constitution and the first 10 amendments. VERDICT This fictionalized approach to early U.S. history is best suited to upper elementary readers and classroom use.–Patricia Ann Owens, formerly at Illinois Eastern Community College, Mt. Carmel

redstarDiaz, Alexandra. The Only Road. 320p. ebook available. S. & S./Paula Wiseman Bks. Oct. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781481457507.

Gr 5-8 –After the murder of their cousin/brother Miguel, Jaime and Ángela (ages 12 and 15) are given the “option” to join the powerful gang controlling their Guatemalan village. A refusal means certain death, so their families make the difficult decision to send the pair north, secretly gathering resources, paying smugglers, and identifying safe houses—all the while aware that their children might not survive the journey. The cousins depart hidden in the bed of a truck with small bags of food and cash concealed in their waistbands. After crossing the Mexican border, they take a bus further north, barely escaping border guards, and briefly stay at a safe church from which they are transported in a locked, airless freight train car. Throughout, the young people experience mercy and loss and observe violence and its results as they walk or ride atop a train, finally reaching a border town. After working to acquire additional cash necessary for a reputable coyote, they cross the Río Bravo and border wall and finally arrive at another refuge center. There are references to violence and sexual abuse, but these are handled in an age-appropriate manner while also reflecting the experiences of many immigrants. Jaime’s first person perspective enables readers to begin to comprehend the realities of undocumented youth immigration, its underlying causes, and the sacrifices and hardships made to reach safety in the United States. VERDICT An important, must-have addition to the growing body of literature with immigrant themes.–Ruth Quiroa, National Louis University, Lisle, IL

Levy, Marianne. Katie Cox Goes Viral. 368p. ebook available. Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky. Jan. 2017. pap. $7.99. ISBN 9781492642503.

Gr 4-6 –Katie Cox loves singing and writing songs, and she has a lot of subject matter to inspire her lyrics and melodies. When her friends convince Katie to sing one of her songs, it turns out her performance was caught on film and posted online. Her video soon goes viral. Now, Katie has to navigate not just her emotions about her parents’ divorce and her mother’s new boyfriend but also the effect of the pressures of fame on her day-to-day life. Levy’s writing style is realistic and relatable, and Katie is a likable heroine. The plot is straightforward and easy to follow, and there’s just enough drama to keep readers hooked. VERDICT Purchase for collections where light realistic fiction is in high demand.–Paige Garrison, The Davis Academy, Sandy Springs, GA

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