Monday, April 16, 2018

MMGM- Woodpeckers: Drilling Holes and Bagging Bugs

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Always in the Middle and #IMWAYR day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. It's also Nonfiction Monday.

Collard, Sneed. Woodpeckers: Drilling Holes and Bagging Bugs
April 15th 2018 by Bucking Horse Books
Copy provided by the publisher

This beautifully photo illustrated book offers an overview of the woodpecker world. Headlined by clever chapter titles (Sapsuckers- Slurping Sap and Taking Names), we learn everything from what qualities make a woodpecker different from other birds, how they communicate, raise families, and eat. There are also chapters on different types of woodpeckers, including endangered ones and how students can help advocate for them. The writing is engaging and funny at points, and shows a real enthusiasm for the topic, which is bound to get readers excited as well. At the end of the book, there are resources for learning more on the topic as well as a glossary and, my favorite, photo bloopers!

The photo credit page is brilliantly complete, and I may use it to show students that yes, you do need to cite all of your sources!

Like Collard's other books,  Hopping Ahead of Climate Change, Insects, and Firebirds: Valuing Natural Wildfires and Burned Forests, this is a perfect length for middle grade and upper elementary readers (48 pages-- just long enough to have enough information, but short enough to be fast paced) and beautifully formatted. The photos, of course, are gorgeous and perfectly illustrate the points the text is making, but the page set up, font choice, and use of colors and inset text boxes all make this an appealing book. Check out his new web site,

35576416Partridge, Elizabeth. Boots on the Ground: America's War in Vietnam
April 10th 2018 by Viking Books for Young Readers
ARC provided by the publisher

The conflict in Vietnam was horrible, contentious, and defined the 1960s in many ways. In order to give an all-inclusive look at the many facets of this era, Partridge has arranged interviews with a wide variety of people who were actively involved at the time. There are also chapters relating to people who have since passed away but were essential to what was going on; Nixon, Johnson, Walter Cronkite, and others. This offers a lot of interesting perspectives, from soldiers from a variety of ethnic backgrounds to medics, nurses, protesters, and even Country Joe McDonald.

Flipping perspective from the home front to the battle front we hear how events abroad were received and interpreted by those involved, and those who were witnessing events through television or campus activity. Arranged in chronological order, we are able to see the changes in the political administration, the opinions of citizens, and the conditions for soldiers as well as ordinary people trying to survive in Vietnam. This historical progression continues up until the dedication of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C. in the early 1980s.

I found it particularly interesting that the author was a senior in high school in 1968, and was active in protesting the war while on a college campus... for a while. The most striking part of the entire book for me was the foreword, since her personal reflections are indicative of what I believe the vast majority of the population felt about the conflict. She and friends were traveling and picked up a hitchhiker (people did, then) who turned out to have been returning from Vietnam. Since the group was not particularly supportive of the military, they maintained a polite silence but let the man spend the night with them rather than turn him out in the cold. I recently read a fiction book that talked about the problems faced by a conscientious objector who was vilified by his neighbors. While admittedly very young at the time (I attended kindergarten in Kent, Ohio starting in the fall of 1970 and my father was a graduate student at Kent State), my recollections were more that few people talked about Vietnam, but everyone was sensitive that those who served had a difficult time, and those who lost family members also had a hard time dealing with the situation. The foreword seems to corroborate this feeling.

No one I knew voiced strong opinions because they didn't want to cause people to feel bad. The book did a great job at pointing out that California did have a lot of tension, because the population included both university protesters as well as service men and women shipping out. I was about Partridge's age when the memorial was built, and even though I read the paper every day, I don't remember much about it at all, even though it was quite the ordeal for the organizers to get it approved, designed, and built.

This is an essential purchase for middle school and high school libraries. It is readable enough for students who are interested in military events to read for pleasure, and a wealth of information for research. Along with Russell Freedman's Vietnam: A History of the War, Boots on the Ground is hugely helpful in understanding both the events and the emotional environment of the US during this time.

The one thing that has always stuck with me, for some weird reason, is that it was technically the Vietnam CONFLICT. War was apparently never declared.

31332397Jensen, Cordelia and Morrison, Laurie. Every Shiny Thing
April 17th 2018 by Abrams/Amulet Books
E ARC from

Lauren is angry with her well-to-do parents because they have sent her brother Ryan, who is on the autism spectrum, off to a residential school. She misses him, and thinks her parents just got tired of dealing with Ryan's problems. She attends a private Quaker school that preaches simplicity even though most of the students are from very rich backgrounds and don't necessarily follow these teachings. Sierra's father is in jail, and her mother is an alcoholic who has finally found herself unable to take care of Sierra. Anne and Carl, neighbors of Lauren's, are fostering Sierra, who goes to the same school that Lauren does. Used to taking care of herself as well as her mother, Sierra is surprised at the level of affluence, but is glad that Lauren befriends her and helps her navigating the different environment. However, Lauren's anger turns into a plan to appropriate unused items from the well-to-do and sell them in order to donate money to a program for autistic teens. Lauren starts not only stealing from friends, but from stores as well. While Sierra doesn't want to help Lauren, she doesn't want to lose her as a friend, either. There are several projects going on at school, and lots of drama as Lauren and her friend Audrey fall out. Sierra's mother struggles with rehab, and Sierra tries to stay in contact with her friend Cassidy, but Lauren's issues imperil her own progress. Eventually, Sierra realizes that in order to help the people you care about, you sometimes have to bring their misdeeds to light.
Strengths: There are not enough books about children in foster care, although we are seeing a number of good updated ones. (Byar's 1977 The Pinballs does not count!) This had a good mix of events, and some added appeal with Lauren stealing. There is something my students like about other children doing things that they ought not to do. I'm not usually a fan of dual perspective, but it worked in this case.
Weaknesses: I had a little bit of trouble believing that Lauren would really miss her brother that much, and the level of affluence (which I definitely saw when I taught at a private school) might be utterly baffling to my students! Could have done without the "verse" style, but it does help to delineate Sierra's story.
What I really think: The shoplifting story alone made this book worth reading-- it's a topic not covered well enough. Add the foster care story, and this is a very readable and timely book.


  1. The Vietnam protest era was hugely divisive and volatile. I had friends on both sides of the camp, and it became impossible to bring some of them together without a fight. Fortunately, some were level-headed and could discuss their opinions. Still, I remember it as a highly charged time. I think her book Boots on the Ground would be something I'd like to read now that there's so much distance between then and now. Thank you for featuring it here with her other books.

  2. Wow. You have been busy! All of these sound great. I LOVE woodpeckers and bird books. Every Shiny Thing is one I would love to read. Thanks for all these good reviews.