Friday, August 07, 2015

Books with really long titles... then and now

24612691Anderson, Jeff. Zack Delacruz: Me and My Big Mouth.
August 4th 2015 by Sterling Children's Books
ARC from Baker and Taylor

When he and classmate José get a little carried away in the library, breaking into a dance while their librarian, Mrs. Darling, is on the phone (and who doesn't do that?), he finds himself "volun-told" that he will be in charge of handing out the fund raiser chocolate bars and collecting the money from his fellow 6th graders, with the obnoxious José. The 6th graders will only be allowed to go to the school dance if they can sell all of the bars, and Mrs. Darling is excited about helping them. Zack isn't thrilled; he's just trying to get through middle school and deal with his divorced parents. He doesn't need José giving him a hard time about spending time with the overweight Janine, who may save the day for the 6th grade by selling the most chocolate bars. When it turns out that the bars haven't been sold, and that Janine doesn't have the $200 she owes to the school, Zack tries to figure out a way to help. He organizes a car wash to earn the money back. The fundraiser earns enough, but since Zack didn't get prior approval, will the 6th graders be able to go to the dance?
Strengths: Adam Selzer-worthy description of the anti-bullying assembly and the students' reactions to it. Really, there aren't any of these assemblies that do what they are intended to do. They usually just come across as ridiculous. The whole book is upbeat, even though there are problems, and Zack is very realistically portrayed as a middle school boy who means well but doesn't always act in his own best interest.
Weaknesses: While it's nice that Zack sticks up for Janine, I was uncomfortable with her portrayal. Eating 100 chocolate bars in a short amount of time isn't all that funny, and I don't know that her problems were addressed properly. There was also a fair amount of slang that didn't seem accurate or up-to-date, and some of the humor is more mean-spirited than necessary.
What I really think: A good first try! Mr. Anderson clearly did his research, and I did appreciate that the bullying was not stereotypical swirlies and threatening to get beat up after school. I'll probably buy a copy, and my students who want humorous stories will definitely pick it up, but there were some things I would have changed.

Hentoff, Nat. I'm Really Dragged But Nothing Gets Me Down
September 1st 1968 by Simon & Schuster

Jeremy is a high school senior who is tired of everything, but especially of the Vietnam conflict. Soon, he will have to register for the draft, and he might be sent to kill others. He doesn't want to. He doesn't think the government has any right to ask that of him. He has friends who don't even think people should burn their draft cards-- they shouldn't even have to register. Jeremy is a nonpracticing Jew whose grandfather came from Russia, so he can't even register as a Conscientious Objector. Some of his friends tell him not to worry, because he will go off to college and be exempt. In four or five years, the war will probably be over. But what about the boys who don't have the option of going to college? Is it fair that he doesn't have to go, but they do? Jeremy's father is just tired of it all. He's tired of the long hair on his son, the loud music, the possible marijuana use. Did he do the right think in sending Jeremy to a private school? After all of the deprivations of his life (the Depression, the War), shouldn't he be allowed to enjoy his comfort and not have his own flesh and blood deride him for it? And shouldn't Jeremy be able to have his shot as his own idea of the American Dream before he is sent to die for it?
Strengths: Our 7th grade teachers do a unit where students have to read a book other than The Outsiders set in the 1960s. These are hard to find, although a few good ones have come out. I am so glad that I bought a copy of this one. It is a perfect example of the angst going on at the time, and the small details really bring the decade into sharper focus. Jeremy is actually hassled at a party about his long hair. It did happen. He and some classmates reach out to a public school to try to connect with the Negro students, helped by a girl, Criss, who is African American but goes to their school. There's some talk that Black people should use guns and violence if necessary, which was a significant part of the Black Panther movement and hardly ever comes into modern books (except Magoon's excellent The Rock and the River). Interesting book.
Weaknesses: Books in the 1960s spend a lot of time discussing what people think and feel. This is not really in fashion now. The father does ruminate a bit on having an affair, but there's nothing graphic. Clearly, the father is having some sort of midlife crisis, which isn't terribly interesting to young adult readers. Boys are smoking marijuana, but one refuses because it might hurt his job prospects! The term "spade" is used casually to refer to a person. I am pretty sure that my students wouldn't even know to whom that referred! (Some of my relatives had some pretty offensive language referring to other ethnicities back in the 1970s, so sadly, I knew what this meant.)
What I really think: If this is framed with the knowledge that this was written in 1968 about 1968, I think it can be a valuable book. If a student picks this up randomly without any back story, it could be boring and confusing.

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