Monday, September 05, 2011

Middle Grade Nonfiction In My Mailbox Monday

It's Middle Grade Monday over at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe. Nonfiction Monday was started by Anastasia Suen. The Round Up today is at Playing By The Book. In My Mailbox Monday is hosted by The Story Siren; since these three came in a Follett order on Friday, we're going to count them.

Rubalcaba, Jill. and Cline, Eric H. Digging for Troy: From Homer to Hisarlik.
This relatively short (66 pages) nonfiction book is a must have for middle schools that cover ancient Greece in the 7th grade curriculum, as well as a great addition to high school libraries that teach The Odyssesy. It's hard to explain to students why there may or may not be an actual site of Troy; since even Schliemann was a little muddled on that point, it's no wonder students are confused. Rubalcaba (the author of the excellent

The Wadget Eye) and Cline do a great job of explaining the excavations at Hisarlik, and include a chapter on the story of the Trojan War, which is very helpful. They then proceed to explain how excavations were carried on over a period of years, and how each layer added to our understanding of Bronze Age life. I especially appreciated how the different primary archaeologists of the site were covered; I spent many long hours in the Carl Blegen Library at the University of Cincinnati.
Strengths: Well illustrated, brief but informative, this is a fantastic overview for understanding Hisarlik and it's relationship to Troy. The cover is wonderful as well.
Weaknesses: Some sidebars explaining people, places, etc.
could have been added, making this a little easier for a teacher to use to introduce the topic to classes.

Brevard, Katherine Mclean. The Story of Guns: How They Changed the World.
Starting in Ancient China, this book gives a brief overview of the development and use of guns throughout history. Period pictures illustrate different types of guns, and sidebars describe different related topics such as gunpowder or child soldiers. Focusing on wars that added much to the development of guns, this ends with World War II and Vietnam, then continues with a chapter on the spread of arms through the world and ends with a chapter on "A World Transformed by Violence".
Strengths: This is a nicely balanced account; while it gives damning statistics about gun deaths in the US, it also explains that gun rights are important to many Americans as well. This is a topic that many boys are interested in, and since this is very historically based, I don't mind having it in the library.
Weaknesses: Several years ago, the principal told me to remove all the gun books from the library; since most of them were bought by the former librarian who was a rabid supported of the NRA, I didn't mind, because the books were not balanced. I do worry that someone will want me to get rid of this one or have concerns about
certain students reading it, even though it is a historical overview and not anything advocating that 7th graders bring guns to school.

Dessen, Sarah. What Happened to Goodbye.
Mclean's father has a consulting job that requires him to move from town to town to try to resurrect struggling restaurants. Since Mclean doesn't want to live with her mother (who left her father for the head basketball coach of a team her father loved) and her new family, this means that Mclean moves as well. To cope with this, she has taken to reinventing herself at every new town-- peppy cheerleader, Goth girl, mop wringer. She is trying to create a new persona during her senior year at her newest town when she meets Dave and his friends and is caught off guard, revealing more of her real personality than she would like. She also gets invested in the restaurant her father is supposed to close down. She is still angry at her mother, who wants Mclean to spend more time with her. There's plenty of drama, but a nice solution.
Strengths: It occurred to me that the reason middle grade students like to read Sarah Dessen is that the slightly older girls have much more autonomy than they have. In most of the books, at least one parent is somewhat removed from daily life, and the characters are allowed to travel about town freely. I'm so glad that Dessen makes these appropriate for middle school students; most reviews list this as 8th grade and up, but there is nothing that would be objectionable to younger students. Or, more importantly, their parents!
Weaknesses: This didn't have quite the oomph of Lock and Key or Along for the Ride, but was good nonetheless. Have concerns about the cover dating quickly-- see? Low ride jeans don't look good on anyone!

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