Monday, June 22, 2015

MMGM- Mason Dixon

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.

11373441Mills, Claudia. Mason Dixon: Basketball Disasters
January 10th 2012 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Copy recieved from Young Adult Books Central and Reviewed there.

In this third book in the Mason Dixon series (Pet Disasters, 2011 and Fourth Grade Disasters, 2012), Mason is expanding his horizons even further. His best friend, Brady suggests that he play basketball, and his mother and father as very supportive of this, having read articles that playing sports is good for children. Mason isn't so sure, especially since his nemesis, Dunk, is on an opposing team. Mason's father is volunteered to coach the team even though he didn't play basketball himself, which leads to some interesting moments. Mason also has to deal with a new elderly neighbor who doesn't like Dog in her yard, as well as a school unit on Colonial Life that involves a lot of crafts and projects.

In the previous books, Mason was afraid of everything, but he is definitely coming into his own in fifth grade. I liked that he confronted his parents about whether or not they actually played on sports teams when they strongly suggest that he play basketball! He has become fond of Dog, even though he wasn't sure he liked animals at first, and is able to defend him to the Animal Control person. Even on the basketball court, Mason is able to learn the plays and do a decent job. It's good to see him make progress towards become more mature. I would love to see a book with Mason in the 6th grade!

The story line follows Mason through various events of fall, which is a popular way to present early middle grade plots. There's basketball, neighbor Mrs. Taylor, colonial crafts at school, and Thanksgiving, and all of these things come together nicely in the end. For fourth graders who are actually studying colonial times, all of the different craft projects (corn husk dolls, punched tin lanterns, sewing, etc.) might make them jealous, because there's so little time in classrooms to do those projects these days! Readers will know and appreciate the history surrounding them, which is a nice touch.

Summer is a great time for readers to get involved in series books, and Mills has several elementary series like Mason Dixon that are a great way to while away a rainy summer day!

Okay-- best way to spend summer as a child? Find an author or a series you like and read every single last one while sitting on the front porch with your dog. What? Not everyone's first choice? Definitely mine. I devoted the summer of 1977, for example, to The Chronicles of Narnia. This was right after Country Time Lemonade mix came out, and I seem to remember a preponderance of Nature Valley Granola bars being consumed as well. All the sugar! But in a form that my mother believed was nutritionally superior to something like Foot Loops. Ah, nostalgia!

22718722Blumenthal, Karen. Tommy: The Gun that Changed America
June 30th 2015 by Roaring Brook Press
E ARC from

Here's the thing: I hate guns. My father had an antique hunting rifle that his father had owned, but I refused to let it in my house. Unless you are shooting your own food, there's no reason for anyone to have a gun. You can tell that I am not a member of the NRA.

That said, this was a tremendously interesting book. I love to read about inventions that change the way that people live. Looking back, it's easy to think "Well, didn't the inventors KNOW that this would not end well?", but Blumenthal does an excellent job of explaining why the Thompson Sub-Machine Gun was invented, and how it came to be used in so many criminal activities in the first half of the 20th century.

During WWI, Thompson started trying to develop a lighter, more accurate gun that would shoot more rounds more quickly, so that fewer men would die. It's hard to get our mind around this kind of thinking, but it makes a little bit of sense. Of course, the timing was bad, and by the time the gun was developed, the war was over. Left with lots of stock, the Auto-Ordance company tried to sell the guns to police and other peace keeping forces; that was, after all, what the guns were meant for. However, there were enterprising people who tried to get the guns illegally to other places, including Ireland at the time of the Troubles. Since there weren't many gun laws to speak of, the Tommy gun eventually made its way into the hands of gangsters like Al Capone. Blumenthal does a great job of briefly explaining these criminals' actions, and how they were formed by the use of this gun. She also outlines the evolution of gun laws in a way that would make this book an excellent resource for National History Day projects.

I would like to see a paper copy of this to get a better idea of the layout, but I think I will definitely buy a copy. It is a bit long for most students to pick up for fun (240 pages, some of that foot notes and an extensive bibliography), but I thought it moved quickly and was quite interesting. In fact, the evening after I read the book, I went to see my daughter in the orchestra for the musical Anything Goes! One of the characters, Moon-Faced Martin, had a Tommy gun in a violin case, and I whispered to my companion "Actually, in order to fit in a violin case, a Thompson Submachine Gun needs to be partially disassembled." I love having random bits of knowledge like that!

This author's Let Me Play and Bootleg do well at my library, so I'll definitely be buying.


  1. I don't read much nonfiction but Tommy sounds like it would appeal to lots of my boys. I'll have to add it to our collection. Come see my YA week here. Happy reading!

  2. It may be long, but I suspect many of my middle school students would have been fascinated with the book, Tommy.I live in a rural area where many people do shoot their own food, and guns are definitely a part of life here. My boys, especially, were fascinated with all things surrounding guns. I love the random biits of knowledge you picked up from it!

  3. Mason Dixon sounds like a great early middle grade read. I'll be searching this series out so thanks for the review. The 'Tommy' book should be an interesting story for boys especially. I'm sure the cover would have a lot to do with them picking up the book in the first place.

  4. Even with the length, I think Tommy would be quite popular at the middle school level. At the elementary level I have a lot of students interested in guns. Where I live hunting is quite prevalent so guns are plentiful. I have quite a few gun safety and hunting books, but they seem to love learning about guns as weapons too.

  5. I feel the same way as you about guns, nevertheless, this does sound like a good, informative NF title.

  6. I don't think the Tommy book sounds too long. I believe interest in the topic will overcome that. Thanks for telling me about these books. I'll try to check them out.

  7. Ok, so I don't have a dog...but I *DO* spend a lot of time reading on the couch or at the library! Thanks for the recommendations! :-)


  8. I like the idea of the Tommy book, but would have to see the layout. I can think of a couple of dozen boys who will love me forever if I purchase it.

  9. Enjoyed reading your thoughts about guns. Tommy sounds really interesting. The basketball book might also capture my 13 year old's interest.