Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A Whole New Ballgame

22718747Bildner, Phil and Probert, Tim. A Whole New Ballgame
August 18th 2015 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
ARC from Netgalley.com

Things are very odd at the beginning of fifth grade, and Rip (aka Mason Irving) and Red (aka Blake Daniels) aren't quite sure what is going on. The venerable Mrs. Hamburger is not their teacher, and the staff has changed, including the principal they were expecting to have. Instead, they have Mr. Acevedo, a tattooed, pony-tail and jeans wearing, test-hating new teacher. He wants them to learn things and not do endless worksheets. They have fun projects, like investigating gross stuff. Red, who is on the autism spectrum, has a few problems with the changes, but has Rip to help him out. The two end up on the basketball team, which is also under Mr. Acevedo tender care, and his attitude that the process in the most important part of any project holds sway on the court as well. Rip has some problems with all of the changes as well, but his mother (herself a teacher) tells him to hang in there, especially when some of the parents start complaining about the lack of test preparation. Rip gets to work on a project with Avery, a girl who uses a wheelchair and has a bit of a chip on her shoulder about it, and learns to look at things from her perspective. Will the class be able to learn things AND do well on the mandated testing?
Strengths: This was a feel good story, with supportive (if somewhat misguided at times) parents, caring teachers, and a really, really diverse cast. Rip is African-American, Red is on the autism spectrum, Avery is physically challenged, Mr. Acevedo is Dominican, there are Russian twins... I'm probably missing some. The length is good, and students will find the classroom methods amusing.
Weaknesses: Too preachy about testing, and I can't say that personally I am a fan of teachers who wear jeans and have other hipster affectations. Standing on desks? Sounds like a safety hazard to me. Do classrooms still have clawfoot tubs for reading? That was sort of the "in" thing about thirty years ago. Okay, okay. All objections mainly personal. Looking forward to having the series for my students.
What I really thought: Tried a bit too hard, but was a good effort. Will definitely buy. The pictures will help sell this, anything with sports will circulate, and I can see this being a good transition book for readers who don't want to move beyond books the length of Jake Maddox books.

22749764Bartoletti, Susan Campbell. Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America
August 4th 2015 by HMH Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

With the variety of books out about typhoid and Mary Mallon, it's looking like a great idea for a National History Day project!

The interactions of Mary Mallon, the cook of the title, investigator George Soper, Dr. Josephine Baker and others are ably covered in this engaging nonfiction book from the author of Black Potatoes, The Boy Who Dared, and many other fiction and nonfiction titles. The fact that Mary refused to believe that she was a healthy carrier of the virus is the hardest part of this story to believe, since she always seemed to have left her positions right after the outbreaks of typhoid fever, and there is mention in this book about the fact that had she complied with the doctor's orders and not returned to work (to a maternity hospital, of all places) and infected more people, she wouldn't have had to live in a secluded cottage on an island off of New York City.

This was somewhat spoiled for me since I had recently read something on the very same topic, but it was certainly a well done book, and Bartoletti's style makes for something very readable. There are some nonfiction books of this length (240 pages) that would be difficult for middle grade readers to get through, but I think I will buy a copy of this because it reads enough like a story to make it interesting.

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