Monday, March 23, 2015

MMGM-- Fatal Fever and Astrotwins

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. Nonfiction Monday also occurs today.

I thought that Shannon Hale's Princess in Black was so much fun that I bought a copy for my middle school library even though it's a bit "too young". When I read Shannon Hale's post on boys being excluded from her talks, I wasn't surprised. Appalled, yes, but not surprised. Yes, some books check out more to boys and some check out more to girls, but the whole reason behind SIX YEARS of Boys Read Pink is to encourage everyone to read everything. Always amuses me when something I've been doing for a long time "suddenly blows up". (#WeNeedDiverseBooks, anyone?)

22825553Jarrow, Gail. Fatal Fever: Tracking Down Typhoid Mary
March 10th 2015 by Calkins Creek
Copy Provided by Kerry McManus of Boyds Mills Press

A little more than 100 years ago, public sanitation was so completely different than it is today that it is almost unimaginable. Raw sewage being let loose in city streets or rural creeks, crowded living conditions complete with rats and all manner of bugs, and only rudimentary medications to help when people fell ill. This was the world of Typhoid Mary, aka Mary Mallon, the cook who was an unwitting carrier of typhoid in early 1900s New York and environs. Since she herself had never been ill with the fever, and was a clean person according to the standards of the time, she refused to believe that she was responsible for more than 20 deaths of people who fell ill after eating her cooking.

Even more interesting is the work of George Soper, a leader in the sanitation movement, who was able to pinpoint Mallon as a key figure in many of the typhoid outbreaks he was studying. His detection lead not only to Mallon's identification, but to the identities of several other carriers who sickened those around them while remaining well themselves. Also interesting is Josephine Baker, a NYC medical investigator who went on to work extensively with children's health initiatives. Mallon's story is an interesting one, and this book gives background information on typhoid as well as following Mallon's actions and the results of her stubborness to quit working on her employers. Well illustrated, with an excellent bibliography, this is a great addition to a middle school library collection for research, but also for readers who like literary nonfiction in the style of Russell Freedman or Jim Murphy.

It is hard for people today to understand what an epidemic is, or how terrible some diseases can be, which might explain the current trend in the news of people not wanting to vaccinate children. This book explains those things beautifully, and is an excellent companion to Julie Chibbaro's Deadly.

20759558Kelly, Mark and Freeman, Martha. Astrotwins: Project Blastoff
March 24th 2015 by Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Twins Mark and Scott have too much time on their hands, so their parents decide to send them for protracted visits with their grandfather in the summer of 1975. There, they have access to a barn full of old equipment, and decide to channel their love of tinkering into building a working space ship. With the help of Jenny, or "Egg" as they call her, who wants to use the ship for a science fair project, the kids research, get help from friends Barry and Howard, as well as the owner of a local body shop and his daughter, Lisa. It's very time consuming, and they aren't sure what fuel they can use, but that's where Jenny's teacher, Mr. Drizzle comes in. The kids all tell the grown-ups that they are just doing a recreation, but manage to get a space suit and helmet, refashioned out of a Vietnam era flight suit belonging to Barry's brother.  Mark is supposed to be the pilot, but ends up breaking his arm, so Scott is sent up instead. They manage to get the ship up, but this gets them into all kinds of trouble.
Strengths: A lot of reviewers have liked this for all of the science involved, and there's a LOT of it-- equations and everything. That's all well and good, but the appeal for middle grade readers will be the idea of being allowed to spend the summer riding around on purple banana seat Sting-Rays and building a rocket. Supportive (if somewhat clueless)parents, and just plain fun make this a great book to hand to a wide variety of readers.
Weaknesses: The inclusion of so much science makes the writing a bit didactic and wooden, but again... we have kids building a space ship in Grandpa's barn. Martha Freeman has written a lot of children's books, so maybe actual astronaut Mark Kelly's writing is represented in the less fluid portions of the text?
What I really think: Most middle grade readers will skip the overly scientific bits and enjoy the summer adventure. Teachers who want books about rockets will use the books in class, so it all works out rather well. Will buy a copy-- just wish the cover were a bit better.


  1. I know several kids who would enjoy this science related romp. Thanks for the heads-up. I'll be taking a look for myself.

  2. You are tremendous with your SIX years of Boys Read Pink. And I am fascinated by booth of your MMGM selections this week. I agree that the anti-vaccination crowd can feel so secure because such epidemics as they had in the last century are things of the past (at least in the first world.)

    I think the idea behind ASTROTWINS is great. (And I don't have negative feelings about the cover, but maybe my eyesight is finally giving out on me!)

    Happy Monday!

  3. Anonymous12:40 PM EDT

    I just watched the PBS NOVA special about Typhoid Mary. It was really interesting! I had no idea what the real story was. I should check out Fatal Fever! Thanks for sharing. ~Megan

  4. Fatal Fever is very high on my TBR list. Can't wait to get my hands on it. Astrotwins sounds like fun for the science geeks. I will pass on the word on that one. Thanks for the reviews.

  5. Astrotwins looks like fun - just the sort of book my space-cadet kids would have loved.

  6. Thank you for recommending these two books. They look perfect for 5th and 6th graders.

  7. Thanks so much for the information about these books. Fatal Fever sounds like a fascinating read. I look forward to getting it for our library. Ditto for Astrotwins: Project Blastoff. I'm always impressed that boys can get totally into a book with a female character (even when their teacher isn't reading it to them) The Lockwood & Co series is a perfect example of this. Sure it has male characters, but the narrator is female! It has been the boys who have read it who push it on the rest of the readers in our book club.

  8. The Typhoid Mary sounds really fascinating - will have to be on the lookout for that one. Fatal Fever also sounds very interesting.