Monday, October 08, 2012

Middle Grade Monday-- For What It's Worth

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and What Are You Reading? day at Teach Mentor Texts. Both sites have lots of links to reviews about books that are great for the 4th through 8th grader.

Couple of people had questions about the age level on the following title-- I think that any fans of Tashjian's other books will like For What It's Worth. I don't remember anything inappropriate, but the in depth descriptions of the 1960s California rock scene will make it appeal to 7th grade and up.

For What It's WorthTashjian, Janet. For What It's Worth.
1 July 2012, Henry Holt and Company (BYR)

It's 1971, and Quinn, who is living in Southern California, is hugely enamored of the music scene there. His mother is friends with Cass Elliott, Frank Zappa hires him to do musical transcription, and he and his friends are working on getting a band of their own together. But things are complicated. A girl from the East Coast, Caroline, moves to town, and even though she's a little weird with his pleated skirts and blouses, Quinn likes her. Are they or aren't they boyfriend/girlfriend? His sister Soosie goes off to college, but sends a draft dodging friend to get Quinn's help. What's going on with his parents? Whatever is going on in his life, music is a constant companion, the backdrop to his days, and the obsession that takes all of his money. But is music really the most important thing? When Quinn realizes how horrible the war in Vietnam is becoming, he must decide which is more important-- his music, or helping someone avoid the draft.
Strengths: The research involved in the music portion of this book must have been intense. Even though Tashjian would have been a contemporary of Quinn, there is so much detail about the interworkings of musicians and bands that some serious research was done. The story with Quinn and Caroline was my favorite part, and the historical setting added another level of interest. I have a student who read all three The Gospel According to Larry books in a week who will like this, although I don't know if Larry and Quinn would have been friends. 
Weaknesses: The book really needed a CD with it. I could easily have spent hours looking up the obscure bands mentioned, but I restrained myself. The wealth of detail might be too much for the casual reader who is not interested in "old" music.

Funny how collecting records and working on cars used to both be HUGE interests for teen boys. Now they just have computers. Sad.

A Whole Lot of LuckyHaworth, Danette. A Whole Lot of Lucky.
4 September 2012, Walker Chidlren's
Hailee's family is doing okay-- her father has a rug cleaning business and her mother delivers newspapers. This is enough to keep Hailee and her baby sister in thrift store clothes, but not enough for things like new bicycles. When her father buys a winning lottery ticket, the family is not entirely sure how to proceed with the three million dollars, but is cautious. The mother quits her job, but the father keeps his. There are no new bikes, but there are a few new clothes. Most importantly, Hailee is enrolled in a private school. This angers her friend Amanda, and the two have a series of misunderstandings. Hailee does make friends with a neighbor who goes to Magnolia, Emily, but manages to irritate her by insisting on hanging out with Nikki, a girl who smokes and generally gets into trouble. It's also hard for Hailee to fit in with the private school girls, and she doesn't agree with her parents' insistence that they not spend the money. Like any middle school experience, there are moments of angst, but in the end, things work out.
Strengths: I liked how realistic this book was. Three million seems like a lot, but Hailee's parents realized it really wasn't. Hailee, however, didn't see it that way and wants a lap top AND a computer AND a cell phone AND a new bike. I also liked how the cell phone and Facebook were used here, even if it dates the book later.
Weaknesses: Hailee runs on high alert all the time, and many of the scenes are very overwrought. I didn't quite understand her fascination with Nikki, and I didn't really like her very much. I will still buy the book.

On the Road to Mr. Mineo'sO'Connor, Barbara. On the Road to Mr. Mineo's
2 October 2012,  Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Nominated for the Cybils by Mary Lee Hahn.

When one of Mr. Mineo's homing pigeons, a one-legged male named Sherman, goes astray, he becomes the focus of thought for several citizens in Meadville, South Carolina. First, Stella tries to catch it with the help of her friend Gerald, because she really wants a dog, and she has nothing better to do. Stella's brother Levi see the bird, and think it would be a good idea to catch it. Mutt has the bird land on his head, but no one believes him, so he wants to catch it. The pigeon hides a lot of the time in the barn of an argumentative old couple, the Ropers, who also have a small brown mutt staying there. Mr. Mineo is oblivious to the sightings of Sherman around town, and is sad that Sherman is missing, because he got the pigeons from his brother, who passed away. Eventually, the people who are trying to catch Sherman figure out the connection to Mr. Mineo, and everyone works together to get the pigeon where he belongs.
Strengths: This is very well-written, and I can see it being the sort of book that fourth grade teachers read aloud to their classes. The cadence of the paragraphs changes nicely, there are lots of good descriptions of people and places, and it's just the right length.
Weaknesses: I had a hard time getting away from the "pigeons are rats with feathers" point of view, and the quirky Southern setting was something I never enjoy. Elementary students could be sold on this, but for middle school students, there is not enough action. 


  1. Thanks for these insightful reviews. I enjoyed the Larry books by Janet Tashjian, so I'm sure I'd like For What It's Worth.

    Haven't heard of A Whole Lot of Lucky before, but what an interesting premise.

    The one I really want to read is On The Road to Mr. Mineo's only because I loved the other Barbara O'Connor books I read.

  2. That Mr. Mineo's one ... I am curious. I don't find that the quirky ones work all that well with my kiddos. But maybe as a read aloud it would. Read alouds can save a lot of books that don't get much attention otherwise. Though I was just informed that the read aloud was killing The One and Only Ivan for a third grade class. They didn't "get" it.

    The advent of the mp3 did kill the album concept, didn't it. I mean ... I almost never remember the name of a song anymore, let alone the album it came from. Don't even usually get the entire album unless it was like an iTunes or Amazon deal of the day. Just get the songs I like. Not always but that's the usual.

  3. Is FOR WHAT IT'S WORTH a YA title? I saw on Amazon that it's for ages 12 and up, and I immediately thought of pairing it with the equally musically-included ADIOS, NIRVANA by Conrad Wesselhoeft, although that's written for ages 14 and up.

    Thanks for bringing these titles to my attention!