Monday, May 13, 2019

MMGM- Finding Orion, Sports Biographies!

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.

First of all, the new Alex Rider short story collection byt Anthony Horowitz is out tomorrow (Candlewick Press). If you have not read Stormbreaker (2000), you are missing out on the number one book in my library over the last 15 years! I have probably bought about  20 copies; I currently have ten in the collection, and there is only one on the shelf. They're so good that I may buy a copy of Secret Weapon for myself so that when I am old and feeble I can get people to read it to me, and I can close my eyes and sigh happily over Alex's tea with Mr. Smither's, gasp when he jumps off a cliff in Afghanistan with a horse, and wish that there were an entire book about how his uncle Ian Rider because a spy after reading Christmas at Gunpoint! He also goes parasailing, is kidnapped by a drug dealer, and is involved in several other adventures. Horowitz, as he does in Foyle's War, never gives us too much insight into the workings of Alex's mind, so that just means we need MORE BOOKS.

Anderson, John David. Finding Orion
May 7th 2019 by Walden Pond Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Rion Kwirk's family members live up to their name. The father is a flavor chemist who works at a candy factory, younger sister Lyra is obsessed with the dictionary, and older sister Cass loves performing. The family is sitting down to dinner when the doorbell rings, and it is a singing telegram. The clown who delivers it informs them that their grandfather Papa Kwirk (aka Jimmy), has passed away. They are all in shock over the inappropriateness, and the father is on the phone to his aunt Gertie, who corroborates the clown's message. Soon, the family is off to Greenburg (with Cass' pet boa constrictor for comfort) to attend the FUNNeral that Gertie claims includes all of Jimmy's last wishes. There is a barbershop quartet, high school marching band, and a meal served by food trucks. There is also a touching eulogy by a girl Rion's age, Tasha, who spent a lot of time with Jimmy. It's not the standard send off, but townspeople share happy memories of Jimmy with the family, and they are a bit comforted. When Gertie shares that there is a scavenger style hunt to find Jimmy's ashes, however, they are not. The father is done with the nonsense and ready to go home, until the first clue starts to make sense. He takes the children out to the house where he grew up, digs in the yard, and finds the next clue. Despite their misgivings, the family is in, and continue pursuing the clues. This brings up many issues from the past and highlights the often dysfunctional relationship the father and Jimmy had after Shelley, their mother and wife, passed away. Each clue sheds a bit more light on what Jimmy experienced and how it impacted his son, and the family is able to work together to understand that even though things can be tough, family means sticking together.
Strengths: I enjoyed the small town setting and the fact that the immediate family was working together. The grief is not overly sodden (they didn't see Jimmy very often, which brings up a whole different kind of grief), and the death of a grandparent is something that many middle grade readers experience. Rion's light romance is fun as well. The book is generally amusing, even with the death, and Anderson always does a very touching story.
Weaknesses: This would have been far more effective without so many quirks for the Kwirks. Every time the name was mentioned, I flinched a little. Had Jimmy and Gertie been the only odd ones, it would have underscored the difficulties the father and son had, and made this seem more realistic. The sub plot with the criminals following the family was unnecessary.
What I really think: Hard NOT to like a book by Anderson, and perhaps young readers will not balk at the goofy names, aunt's vacuum cleaner collection, and general weirdness, but it made the book less effective for me. Will most likely purchase.

Wetzel, Dan. Stephen Curry (Epic Athletes)
May 14th 2019 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
ARC from... I'm not sure where. That happens occasionally.

My general policy is that I only buy biographies once the person has passed away. 1982 biography of Michael Jackson, anyone? When I took over my library, there were a few sports biographies,  and after about five years, the people are no longer known and the books stop circulating. When teachers assign biography projects, they want students to read about people who had more lasting impact on society. I did purchase a few of the On the Court books by Matt Christopher; they were PermaBound, and fell apart within a few years.

I love sports stories. I love biographies. Why is it SO HARD for me to purchase sports bios?

This new Dan Wetzel series will be an exception. Yes, the people are still alive. Yes, the books may stop circulating in five years. But for $14.64 for a 150 page hardcover, I think that these will get enough use to justify their purchase.

What I really enjoyed about this book was that it was more like a story than a biography. There are lots of details about what it was like for Steph (steff) growing up. His career was not particularly easy, and the theme of perseverance is well developed. There are some illustrations that accompany the text, and an "Instant Replay" in graphic novel format at the end. The other books in this series cover Alex Morgan (whose novels are very popular with my students), Serena Williams, and Tom Brady, with books about Lionel Messi and LeBron James coming out in November 2019.

Great length, great pacing, apparently popular athletes. Could we please get one on Michael Jordan? For some reason, my students have been constantly bugging me for books about him, and the two I have are twenty years old!


  1. I’m happy to hear about a new Alex Rider book. Both my son and my brother love the original series, so I placed Stormbreaker on my #MustReadin2019 list, back in January. I’m also happy to learn of the Dan Wetzel series — great to know about this. Thanks for the great reviews and have a wonderful reading week, Karen!

  2. I guess sports figures who are no longer playing but still living (like Michael Jordan) don't get biographies written about them. BTW, there are a lot of Charlotte connections here. Stephen Curry grew up here and is the son of Dell Curry, one of the original Charlotte Hornets and Michael Jordan, who grew up in NC, is the current owner of the Hornets. Basketball roots go deep in these parts!

  3. Hurray for Alex Ryder! I also agree it's hard not to like a John David Anderson book.

  4. Wow. Three books today and they all sound good. I don't watch much basketball, but I sure do love Steph Curry. The other two books sound terrific. Thanks for all the reviews.

  5. Anthony Horowitz sure is prolific isn't he. I loved watching Foyle's War and was impressed by the scope of his work.
    I am looking forward to Finding Orion, but can't believe that he will write anything better than Granted.

  6. I have only been in my school library for 5 years, but Alex Ryder books never go out (just checked and it was last checked out 7 years ago). Not since before my time. But- I will have to read Stormbreaker over the summer and do a book talk in the fall. Sounds like a series that kids will love.