Monday, September 10, 2018

MMGM- Game Changer and 1968

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.

38657023Greenwald, Tommy. Game Changer
September 11th 2018 by Amulet Books
ARC provided by the publisher upon request

At the end of summer football camp for the Walthorne Wildcats, Ted Youngblood collapses as he comes off the field and ends up comatose in the hospital. Told in dialogue, texts, interviews and chat boards by Ted's parents and sister, his doctors, his teammates and others from school, we slowly find out why Ted ended up being injured. We also hear from Ted from the underwater depths of his coma. Ted's parents are divorced, so are not always in agreement as to the treatment of their son. Camille, who is the coach's daughter and has an interest in Ted, starts a chat board, but not all of the postings are supportive. One commenter in particular, Clea, keeps bringing up the idea that Ethan, who hit Ted, did it on purpose. As we go back and forth and hear the reactions of the different characters to the events, we find out more about the culture of football in the school and the deep emotional attachment that the characters have to football, and watch as Ted slowly makes his way out of the depths of injury to re enter the world and reflects on what has happened.

There has been a lot of discussion lately about the age of characters in middle grade books, and how having one in 8th grade or high school tends to make the book "young adult". I think this is incorrect. 6th, 7th, and 8th graders love to read about high school students, so the fact that Ted is in middle school but participating in a high school camp is brilliant. There aren't many sports books that discuss summer conditioning programs, so it was interesting to read about this one, even if most of the events occurred after the camp itself. The format does make this a quick read, and will make it popular with fans of Alexander's The Crossover or Myers' Monster. Personally, I adore Greenwald's regular narrative style, so would have preferred this to be in a standard format like The Real Us so that I could have gotten more background information.

While we don't get a lot of information about each character, we are able to observe a lot of their interactions. With very few words, we get a lot of insight into what the members of the football team are thinking. They love the game, they love the violence of it, and they want to be a part of a group with traditions. They manage to cultivate these things without the coach really understanding what is going on. That was a nice touch-- while it was a little disturbing that the coach didn't know what was going on, it was good to see that he hadn't condoned it and took steps to change the culture after it was brought to his attention.

Aside from investigating the highly relevant topic of concussions, this book also touched on the topics of internet citizenship and divorced parents, and scrutinized high school culture with sympathy and insight. Graced with one of the best covers I have ever seen on a football book, Game Changer is a timely look at how a beloved sport might not be serving its participants well. Buy two copies for schools where sports books are popular, because this will quickly wear out!

38526608Aronson, Marc and Bartoletti, Susan Campbell (Editors).
1968: Today's Authors Explore a Year of Rebellion, Revolution, and Change
September 11th 2018 by Candlewick Press
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

In order for young people to make sense of the current sociopolitical landscape, it is not a bad idea for them to look back fifty years at the pivotal year of 1968. As volatile and contentious as today, but with the benefit of passing years helping to make sense of it all, 1968 is a great place for young readers to start with many topics in order to fully understand them. This is also a fantastic resource to use in conjunction with the perennial middle school favorite, Hinton's The Outsiders (1976), to gain insight into the events of that book.

While I have a particular fondness for the accounts written by people who lived through 1968, there are also some very good essays by historians who had not yet been born, but who have dedicated their careers to understanding particular issues. The essay that I needed the most was Kekla Magoon's "The Death of the Dream"; I've been waiting for her purported book about the Blank Panther Movement, hoping to make sense of the trajectory of the Civil Rights Movement, but this essay did answer, with one of many possible answers, a question that has long bothered me. What happened to the movement that so flourished under Martin Luther King Jr.'s leadership? The 1970s saw very few advances compared to the progress that was made in the 1960s, and seems to have lead us to the point where we are now. I had suspected that the death of King was instrumental, but Magoon's assertion that Robert Kennedy's death also took a lot of wind out of the sails makes so much sense. While there are many other contributing factors, her essay was one that is most timely and should be examined for focal points for the newest incarnation of this movement.

The quality of the writing shows the fine hands of Aronson and Bartoletti as editors. The essays are all brilliantly written, with an excellent balance of historical facts and emotional recollections. Fleischman's "Biker's Ed" could be a rallying point for every disaffected teenager who has ever wanted to journey out alone to experience the world, but is also poignant in that teenagers no longer feel safe in undertaking cross country bike trips, even with all of our improved communication.

It's rare that I discuss every entry in a collection, but I really can't leave any of these out. Lenore Look's "The Red Guard" should be included in all future edition of Ying Chang Compestine's The Revolution is Not a Dinner Party (2007) and is informative in showing how much information we don't have about China's Cultural Revolution, and how devastating it is to historical understanding when people are not allowed or encouraged to share their experiences.

Partridge's historical narrative at the beginnings of the chapters intertwine current events with her own experiences at the time, and Kate McMillan's memoir of being a soixante-huitard in Paris give a lot of description of what it was like to be a young person at a time of political upheaval. Add to that Hill's "The Wrong Side of History", about his experiences living in a a family with strongly racist views at the time of Martin Luther King's death, and Jennifer Anthony's explanation of Mark Rudd's involvement in protesting a segregated gym at Colombia University, and today's readers can begin to understand how teens were instrumental and active in many of the events that they read about, letting them know that they do not need to be powerless bystanders.

Mark Kurlansky, who has done a stand alone book on this topic 1968: The Year That Rocked the World (2001) as well as a fiction book about a conscientious objector to Vietnam (Battle Fatigue, 2011), writes touchingly about the personal impact that Robert Kennedy had on his experiences. Bartoletti gives a detailed explanation of Abbie Hoffman and the Yippies that was tremendously informative and useful in understanding the counterculture. Jim Murphy writes about the contribution and tribulations of two other notable individuals, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who protested from the winners podium at the Olympics.

Kurlansky also writes about the Prague Spring, which I had never really investigated, and Omar Figueras covers another event not mentioned in any of my history classes, the Massacre at the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in Mexico City. Loree Griffin Burns adds a STEM offering to this list of topics not covered by most curricula in discussing the work that continued in the 1960s with DNA.

History is so often about events, politics, and wars, so two essays about cultural phenomena added greatly to the comprehensiveness of this volume. Marc Aronson's entry about Douglas Engelbart and his demonstration of computers in 1968 covered an issue that few readers, young or old, will have known about. Moments in history that offer a clear cut delineation between eras are hard to find, and Englebart's demonstration of a computer with a mouse, split screen, cursors, and hyperlinks is chilling to read. The fact that this was not hailed as a pivotal event at the time is not surprising, but makes the prophetic qualities of the event even more powerful. David Lubar's entry, "Running with Sharp Schticks" is by far the most interesting and engaging essay, but also the most disturbing in some ways. Humor is so very subjective, and changes so quickly, that the comedians he writes about are no long funny to us, but deeply offensive. The brilliant part of the internet to me is that with the magic of You Tube, we can see not only historical events, but all of the comedians that Lubar talks about as having an impact on the emotions of the day. Given the current climate, it is jaw-droppingly astonishing what words came out of the mouths of comedians like Pat Paulsen, even as a satirist, and Don Rickles.

These essays would be wonderful to read out loud to history classes, and to use to compare with current events. If there were ever a book that showed vividly the validity of George Santayana's assertion "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it," it would definitely be the exquisite 1968: Today's Authors Explore a Year of Rebellion, Revolution, and Change.


  1. A football book and Tommy Greenwald is just the type of story I'm ready for. A football camp is a perfect way to mix middle and high school and yes, kids do love to read about older characters. Thanks for all of your reviews this week.

  2. Did you know that the second, third and fourth paragraphs repeat themselves?

  3. I think some of my history buffs would love 1968 (and the Kurlansky titles you reference). I am also not familiar with Tommy Greenwald, but I am always looking for more books to hand to students who love The Crossover, so thanks for this recommendation!

  4. While both of these look good, You have convinced me that I must read 1968: Today's Authors Explore a Year of Rebellion, Revolution, and Change.

  5. I'm particularly interested in reading about Game Changer. My husband did a great deal of research on football and taught a course on the topic at our local college a few years back. After that semester, things changed a bit in our family where football took a backseat (we still watch it sometimes, but not like we used to every single week). It sounds like this book might be a nice middle grade reading option for my 7th grader. Thank you for sharing!

  6. The football story does seem to be one that will be popular, but I will certainly purchase 1968. You've given it a strong review, made me want it now! Thanks, Karen.

  7. Putting 50 cents in your copy editing piggy bank, Iron Guy! Thanks.

  8. That is a brilliant idea to have a middle schooler at a high school camp. Very clever!

  9. totally agree that middle-schoolers love to read books about high-schoolers (having one in each, i can confirm that truth!). Game Changer is definitely something my son will enjoy..

  10. 1968 looks exactly like my kind of book! Great review, love how detailed it is. Have a great reading week!