Monday, August 10, 2015
MMGM- Robots and Circuses.
It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and What Are You Reading? day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday.
Brown, Jennifer. How Lunchbox Jones Saved Me from Robots, Traitors and Missy the Cruel.
August 11th 2015 by Bloomsbury USA Childrens
E ARC from Netgalley.com
Luke is perfectly happy playing video games after school with his online friend Randy, especially since he is angry with his former playmate-- his older brother, Rob, who has joined the Marines and is off to boot camp soon. However, his teacher thinks he would be a good fit for the robotics club, since he is good at computer gaming. Luke's father also encourages him, and Luke is somewhat motivated to do something competitive since his middle school has never won anything. Robotics club ends up being Luke, Mikayla (whose skill is doing things with her feet), Stuart ( who is always eating sunflower seeds), two nearly identical boys named Josh, Missy the Cruel (an elfin but mean girl who has taunted Luke for years), and Lunchbox Jones. No one knows much about Lunchbox, who is a large, disheveled boy who rarely talks but always carries a blue plastic lunchbox with him. No one in the group really knows how to make robots, but Luke has an odd friendship with Walter, who is younger but likes to hang out at Luke's locker and share his mother's homemade candy with him. Walter loves to talk about and build cars, so the two put the initial robot together. When Missy transfers out to rival middle school Goat Grove, the team loses most of its expertise. Luke tries to learn how to program the robot, and gets a lot of help from Lunchbox, whose name is really Tim, after the two strike up a tenuous friendship. The two make a lot of progress and reassemble the team for the final competition, where they have to face Missy and try to break the school's losing streak.
There's a lot going on with the characters in this book, but not at the expense of humor or pacing. Luke starts off as kind of a loner, but manages to make friends in a natural way. The secrets he learns about Tim aren't horrible, but are the kinds of things that would probably cause a 7th grader to become withdrawn and quiet. I especially liked how initially, Luke hung out with Walter to get candy, but finds that he really enjoys being around him. The parents in the book are supportive and add some fun moments-- Luke finds out that his dad was in a "Future Club" where they did primitive robotics. There are also scenes with all four of Luke's grandparents coming over to dinner every night that are surprisingly amusing. And NONE of them die!
Even Missy is portrayed realistically. She's a bully, but no one suspects her. She's more annoying than anything, and Luke deals with her primarily by avoiding her and then wanting to clean her clock at the robotics competition. This is the type of bullying that REALLY happens in middle school.
This doesn't have a whole lot of action, but the book read very quickly because it was amusing. The cover is great, and I think that this will find a wide readership. Certainly, robotics club member's who liked Korman's Ungifted will want to pick this up, but also readers who like funny, realistic fiction
My only objection to the book is that robotics (much like depictions of cross country!) is a group that people seem reluctant to join. When we have had robotics teams at my school, they have been hotly contested groups of really smart, motivated students. It is clear, however, that Ms. Brown spent a lot of quality time with her son's group, so we'll give her the artistic license for this.
Levinson, Cynthia. Watch Out for Flying Kids
August 1st 2015, Peachtree Publishers
ARC received from the publisher
I learned a lot of things reading this book. There is a City Museum in St. Louis that houses Circus Harmony, a group that teaches tumbling and acrobatic skills and also promotes understanding between cultures. Jessica Hentoff, who is the daughter of author Nat Hentoff, is the head of the staff there and has 40 years of acrobatic experience. There are camps that teach children from all walks of life the rudimentaries of circus performance both in St. Louis and in Israel, where cultural understanding between Jews and Muslims is encouraged. This book lays out all of the details of these programs as well as children who have participated in them, and shows the importance of cultural exchanges by showing the results participation in the programs has had on the children. There is a huge amount of detail about everything from the minutiae of circus performing to the struggles that the performers themselves must overcome. Cynthia Levinson, who wrote the terrific We've Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children's March has done a tremendous amount of research and interviews in order to cover this topic in its entirety.
This book is a good addition to collections that focus on cross cultural understanding, especially in light of the problems in Ferguson, which is not far from St. Louis. Sadly, at over 200 pages, I don't know that my students will really be interested in it. It doesn't really fit in with any of our curricular areas, and it has a lot more detail than the casual reader might want. A fantastic book, just not the length or topic that is successful in my library.