Friday, October 07, 2016

Guy Friday- Skateboards and Bicyles

Berend, Janet Eoff. True Vert
October 11th 2016 by Breakaway Books
E ARC provided by the author

After being badly injured in Vertical, Josh is back and eager to return to skateboarding. He is especially interested in the Alpha Dog Skate Kru competition, since the winner gets to train at the ADSK facility. Even though the competition is tough, and his skateboard is stolen, he does well. He signs a contract with the owner, Dirk, but also with his parents. His deal with them? He has to keep up with his high school classes and always wear his helmet. After that, Josh lives the skater life that can only be dreamed about-- limitless ADSK clothes and gear, contact with great skateboarders, and cool facilities. When Dirk wants him to try out a mega ramp that has him going fifty feet in the air, Josh feels confident that he can do it... until he can't. Having lied to his parents, he hides the details of his second traumatic brain injury from them, and even after suffering from headaches, he is considering riding the mega ramp again. Josh loves to skate, but what price is he willing to pay?

The best part about this book is that it speaks to a fantasy world of skateboarding that few people ever experience. Josh gets cool gear, he's restyled and featured in a skating magazine, he is shown on t.v. He has excellent skateboarding skills and is taught by legends in the field. Top that off with the attention of his friend Erin, a soccer player who bakes oatmeal cookies, and you have a book that readers can insert themselves into and spend days fantasizing about a similar lifestyle. Add the ability to borrow Dirk's car instead of riding the bus, and True Vert is a book that all of my readers who skateboard, and some who don't, will be avid to read. 

There are plenty of touches that bring this back to earth without making the story sad. Josh struggles in school and needs a tutor. For a long time, he does have a lengthy bus ride to the training facility. Things don't always go smoothly with Erin, and his friends feel abandoned because of all the time he spends training away from them. 

Traumatic brain injuries are in the news a lot, and for good reasons. They can be devastating, and since Josh has already suffered one such event, he needs to be even more careful. The fact that he has to make a choice between the ADSK lifestyle and possible further injury adds a real element of struggle to this story, and we get to see how mature Josh can be when he ponders his options.

It's very difficult to find books about skateboarding, much less books of this quality. Berend clearly is very familiar with the terminology, lifestyle and logistics of skateboarding, and this brings an immediacy and vibrancy to the story. It also sets True Vert apart from the few other skateboarding books such as the Matt Christopher or Orca book titles in that True Vert is more literary and has a much better understanding of how it feels to be a skater. 

29241315McDonough, Yona Zeldis. The Bicycle Spy
September 27th 2016 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Marcel's parents run a bakery, so it's not unusual for them to ask him to deliver bread. He loves to ride his bike, and is a big fan of the Tour de France, so he often imagines that he is riding in it while on his errands. Because it is 1942 and the Nazis have invaded France, there has been no race, and there are lots of shortages and rationing. His mother is able to bake pan d'epice (gingerbread) for him to give to German guards when he is out delivering, and he soon finds out why-- his parents are members of the Resistance, and he is delivering messages for them! At school, he makes a friend in new student Delphine, who is also a fan of the Tour de France, and the two spend a lot of time together, playing cards, studying, and riding bikes. When Delphine confides in Marcel that she is Jewish and her family has been trying to escape the Nazis, he takes her very seriously. Eventually, a mean classmate finds out, and her family is on the run again. Marcel's parents have connections that could help the family get to Spain, and Marcel's skills as a bicycle spy might be the only thing standing between his friend and her family's demise.

Strengths: This was a well-constructed and engaging middle grade novel about a topic which still fascinates readers. Marcel's involvement was realistically portrayed, and exciting to read. Tying in his interest to professional bike racing was inspired. Good length, attractive cover, and a great friendship between Marcel and Delphine make this a historical fiction title that will be easy to get children to read.
Weaknesses: There were a couple of uses of "mom" and "kid" that seemed out of place, although I know the words were in use then. Small quibble. 

What I really think: Our 8th grade studies the Holocaust, and this will be a fantastic book to add to my collection for those classes. It also reads well on its own because of the adventure and the interest in bike riding.

When I was in London in July, I was able to visit the Imperial War Museum's 1940s House exhibit. There was also a "living history" interpreter; a man who had been living in Birmingham during the Blitz. I had quite a lengthy conversation with him about his experiences as a young child during that time. Two things struck me particularly-- he mentioned how integral bicycles were to his experience, and how boys at that time thought nothing of biking 10-20 miles at a time. His favorite ice cream, he said, was 5k away in another town, so he would bike there, eat ice cream, and then bike home! 

Late in the conversation, he pulled an out of focus photograph out of a pile and handed it to me, saying that it was his favorite picture from the war. It was his French teacher, nodding off at the front of the room. The gentleman had a camera in his desk and had snapped it surreptitiously. His teacher was too old to go and fight, but was a member of the Home Guard. Because of the bombings, he would often be out all night, helping people in shelters, and then have to report to teach the next day. This man remembered his teacher fondly after more than 70 years. How wonderful is that?


  1. Very wonderful! Both of these books sound great. I'll keep my eyes open for them.

  2. Darn anyway. Went right out and ordered both of these after reading your reviews. Love both subjects.