Middle Grade: Sports Fiction, Crystal Balls, and Super Dorks | July 2018 Xpress Reviews

A bilingual book on bullying opens important conversations; quirky Spindrift must solve her late parents' mysterious quest; Vrabel's newest "Dork" offering.

Mendoza, Jessica & Alana Mendoza Dusan. There’s No Base Like Home. illus. by Ruth McNally Barshaw. 224p. Tu. Jun. 2018. Tr $18.95. ISBN 9781620145883.

Gr 4-6 –Sophia felt like she had been waiting her whole life to try out for the Waves championship softball team. When she doesn’t make the team, she gets the opportunity to join an upstart softball league, but she has trouble adjusting to her new position. She also experiences some real issues outside of softball: her best friend becomes boy crazy, her parents are working overtime so her and her sister can play, and she’s not sure that she’ll ever measure up to her sister’s talent. The author is a Major League Baseball analyst for ESPN and a former pro softball player, so her knowledge of the sport shines. The action play-by-plays are great–there are no lulls, and readers can feel the girls’ anticipation as they play. Sophia also deals with real situations in her life, and although her responses are sometimes idealistic, important issues, such as the impact of race, aren’t ignored. A fast-paced, engaging read, perfect for any ball player. VERDICT A solid debut novel featuring a grossly underrepresented sport in middle grade fiction. A fine purchase where softball and baseball are popular.–Kerri Williams, Sachem Public Library, Holbrook, NY

Saldaña, René Jr. The Curse of the Bully’s Wrath/La maldición de la ira del abusón. 64p. (Mickey Rangel Mysteries: Bk. 5). Piñata. May 2018. pap. $9.95. ISBN 9781558858664.

Gr 3-5 –Marco is the new kid in school, and he’s mean. So mean, in fact, that he has a football player and the established school bully on alert. After Mickey witnesses an incident between Marco and a classmate, he wants to tell his school principal, but Marco threatens him and anyone else who tells Marco’s secret. Faced with a moral conundrum, Mickey uses his sleuthing skills to find out the best way to handle a bully and, in the process, discovers the truth about what makes bullies say and do the things they do. Mickey’s friends warn him that turning a bully into a friend isn’t easy, but Mickey refuses to accept that “a bad apple is sometimes just a bad apple.” By talking to trusted adults and modeling empathy, compassion, and forgiveness, Mickey not only solves the mystery but he makes life better for his classmates. Short chapters make this book ideal for reluctant readers and a strong addition to any intermediate collection. VERDICT Important lessons are learned in this timely tale that will engage curious readers and spark important conversations.–Natalie Romano, Denver Public Library

Trevayne, Emma. Spindrift and the Orchid. 256p. S. & S. May 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481462594.

Gr 3-6 –Spindrift has lived with her grandfather in the apartment above his magical curiosity-filled shop in Lux since she was an infant. Her parents died in a shipwreck, and she was discovered, miraculously unharmed, in a boat near the shore with an apparently useless crystal ball tucked into her blanket. One evening, a woman who can grant wishes and who Sprindrift learns is one of the Seven Sages, emerges from her crystal ball. At about the same time, her grandfather begins sharing with Spindrift the letters her mother sent to him during her time at sea, and the girl learns that there are seven crystal balls and her parents were seeking to find and unite all of them. This story is beautifully written, with delightful details like a chandelier that changes from a sun to a moon and stars depending upon the time of day and mechanical birds that deliver letters across town or across the ocean. Characters are well developed, including Spindrift’s best friends Clemence and Max and her deceased mother, Emilie. A few French words are sprinkled throughout the text (those who check the map coordinates for Lux included in the correspondence will find that they match up with Paris.). While not specifically historical fiction, the descriptions of this world’s orchid craze is reminiscent of the Victorian era’s orchidelirium. VERDICT Highly recommended for middle grade collections.–Judy Poyer, Anne Arundel County Public Library, MD

Vrabel, Beth. Super Dorks. 240p. (Pack of Dorks: Bk. 3). Sky Pony. Jun. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781510731448.

Gr 4-6 –Fifth grader Lucy and her friends are at the park when one of them saves two toddlers from an oncoming car. One rescuer breaks his arm in the process and can’t participate in his beloved sport. Lucy wants to be a supportive friend, but in typical Lucy fashion, she’s clumsy going about it. Then another friend stops a bike thief and another takes on a role advocating an endangered species. Lucy wants to “find her awesome” like her friends but quickly realizes that being a hero isn’t something you can accomplish by force of will. She runs for class president but, again, nothing turns out as planned. Lucy is a great role model for readers who want to be a positive force in the world but find their attempts don’t always work out as intended. She gets frustrated but keeps working toward being the person she wants to be, and she acknowledges when she messes up and keeps moving forward. Readers (or teachers) can find lots to talk about here. Are good ideas and hard work enough to win elections? Do you need public acknowledgement to do good works? Readers following this series will be delighted with the new installment that also stands on its own. The greatest strength of this series is its gentle realism that brings up tough, relatable subjects in a safe, reassuring way. VERDICT A fine choice for collections in need character-building stories or where the previous “Dorks” books have been popular.–Amelia Jenkins, Juneau Public Library, AK

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