Wednesday, July 01, 2015

#WeNeedDiverseBooks Wednesday- Scholastic Series

23399258Earhart, Kristin. Rain Forest Relay (Race the Wild #1)
April 28th 2015 by Scholastic Paperbacks
Copy from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

Russell and four of his friends from his flag football team have won a coveted spot on The Wild Life race, where the prize is a million dollars! However, the size of the teams was cut to four, and Russell finds himself separated from his friends and put with three strangers: Mari Soto, who has an encyclopedic knowledge of wild life; Dev Patel, who is great with technology; and Sage, whose go-getting attitude brings the team together. Each team gets clues that need to be followed and instructions of a picture of an animal they must take, and when that is turned in, they get another clue. Russell's friends are cheating a little bit and not being particularly nice when they manage to get an illegal scoop on clues, but Russell and his new group try their best to learn about the creatures in the forest, be respectful of the environment, and work together as a team.

It's nice to see diversity in the characters, even if most groups in real life don't necessarily consist of an African American, Indian American, Latina, and token blonde girl. Until we see more authors with diverse backgrounds, the issue may have to be forced, and having a cast like this beats having three middle class white boys and a token 'tomboy', which is what a lot of books have been until now!

Russell's sense of dismay when he is assigned to an unknown group is understandable, and the four children are somewhat awkward together at first, which is very true-to-life. Each character brings his or her own assets to the team, and they slowly begin to trust each other and rely on their team. It's also realistic that Russell's friends are working against him, and it's something that readers this age will struggle with themselves.

I especially liked the descriptions of the rain forest, and all of the flora and fauna in it. There are note pages between the chapters that give more information. Since the plants and animals are an integral part of the adventure, these notes seem necessary, instead of like info dumps to make this STEM friendly, and add interest instead of just slowing down the plot. I can see these books being very popular in elementary science classrooms because of this. I learned a lot of things-- the pink Amazon River Dolphin was especially interesting. It's not easy to work science information into a chapter book, but I thought in this case if was handled beautifully.

Readers who enjoy Fish Finelli or Cooper and Packrat will enjoy Russel's trip into the rainforest! It would be a great idea to pair this title with an informational book about rain forests and rain forests creatures.

23399169Earhart, Kristin. Great Reef Race (Race the Wild #2)
April 28th 2015 by Scholastic Paperbacks
Copy from Young Adult Books Central and reviewed there.

In the second leg of The Wild Race, the competitors are whisked off to Australia, to the Great Barrier Reef. They are assigned an adult to help them, and told not to disturb the delicate ecosystem of the area. As in the first race, they are given clues, told to take pictures, and have to be the first to finish in order to win. This time, Sage is having troubles concentrating. Mari is desperately sea sick, so the group misses her knowledge. The group runs into other difficulties, as well-- Sage falls overboard, and the group is slowed down when they find an injured sea turtle and must wait for someone to come and help them. We find out why Sage is out of sorts, and why it is so important for her to win the million dollar prixe money.

The science in this is every bit as good as it is in the first book, and there are lots of interesting facts about the Great Barrier Reef. There is also a very good lesson on symbiosis, or mutualism, that students will understand because of all of the examples that are mentioned, and the brilliant part is that it is woven into the story in a way that it doesn't seem science-y at all!

Sage's difficulties add to the interest of the book but are not dwelt on too much, striking a good balance for early readers. Readers who are intrigued by Gordon Korman's Dive or Island series or Spradlin's Killer Species books, or who have a fondness for Jean Craighead George's work will find this adventure to be a satisfying dip in exotic waters! Book three, Arctic Freeze, is due out in August 2015.

23399270Siegal, Ida. Emma is on the Air
April 28th 2015 by Scholastic Press
Copy checked out from public library.

I thought that I was on a great roll of multicultural books for younger middle grade readers. Since the demand for lower level materials has been growing, I was very excited about this, especially since the Race the Wild included so much science in such an interesting way. Maybe that's why I was so disappointed in this book.

Emma, whose father is from the Dominican Republic and whose mother is from New York City, wants to be famous. Famous people are happy and sing when they set the table for dinner. When Emma sees a pretty news reporter, she decides she wants to be one when she grows up. Her Papi tells her that she has to find a story that people need to know, and investigate it. When a classmate finds a worm in his hamburger from home at lunch, Emma is on it. Her father lets her brings a video camera and microphone to school (getting permission from the administration for her to use these to investigate), and she sets out to interview staff and students about this. Of course, the principal and even the health inspector sent to the school think she is doing a good job, and she finds out that the worm got in the burger by accident.

Not only did this one strain credulity on several levels (Cafeteria staff heating up food brought from home? An organic garden at the school? Principal allowing student to videotape an investigation?), but Emma was annoying. She's very much concerned with how she looks, with her shiny purple feather pen, and with being famous. While it's great to see a character of Dominican descent, this book just didn't work for me on many, many levels.

So, Scholastic, here's the question: Why does a great series like Race the Wild, which would be really useful in science classrooms, get published only in paperback, while something like Emma is on the Air gets published in a nice, jacketed hardcover?

Bonus points for #WeNeedDiverseBooks, and good try for Ms. Siegal, who seems to have worked really hard on this, but it just seems wrong to put a better cover on a book just because the author is a celebrity newswoman instead of a seasoned writer like Ms. Earhart.


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