Monday, October 07, 2019

MMGM- Nina Soni and Fighting for the Forest

 It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Always in the Middle and #IMWAYR day

Sheth, Kashmira. Nina Soni, Former Best Friend
October 1st 2019 by Peachtree Publishing Company
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Nina is nine years old, and struggling with several things. Her father has to spend his week working away from home, and Nina misses him. She also has trouble controlling herself, which leads her to accidentally crash her friend Jay's project to the ground. He forgives her, but is also a little irritated. Nina's younger sister Kavita also is rather impetuous, and goes head first into a school trash can to retrieve something shiny, getting gum stuck in her hair right before her birthday party! Nina has forgotten to do a Personal Narrative Project for school. Jay doesn't have a lot of sympthay and claims to already be done. Nina decides to pursue the scientific experiment option after she helps her mother make a cabbage dish and notices that the lemon juice turns the cabbage a different color. This is a good thing, because her sweatshirt that she was wearing when she rescued Kavita from the garbage is not growing things as fast as she would like at the bottom of her closet! While working on the preparations for Kavita's party, Nine tries to work on her experiment, but it is constantly interrupted. Not only that, but Jay informs her at the party that he did the same experiment in third grade! Will Nina be able to get her project done by Monday morning?
Strengths: Nina's concerns are all too real; how many children have put off important projects because they just can't get themselves organized? There should be more books about this. I enjoyed Nina's family and her relationship with Kavita. The Indian culture is a major component in the book, but it is not a book about Nina's culture, which is perfect. I think Indian writers are the absolute best at writing descriptions of food, and I just wanted to go to dinner at Nina's house!
Weaknesses: Too young for my readers, but I loved everything about this!
What I really think: I really enjoyed this; it was sort of like an Indian version of Haywood's Betsy books! (And I loved Betsy when I was six, so this is high praise!) Sheth also has The No-Dogs-Allowed Rule (2012) for younger readers; sadly, it is out of print, but both of these are great choices for realistic fiction for elementary schools.

Pearson, P. O'Connell. Fighting for the Forest: How FDR's Civilian Conservation Corps Helped Save America
October 8th 2019 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

I find the Great Depression fascinating, and there could be every bit as many books about it as there are about World War II. So many different stories, from the pack horse librarians who traveled through Appalachia, to children who were turned out of their homes because their parents couldn't afford to feed them, to Dorothea Lange and her work photographing migrant farm workers during this time. The Civilian Conservation Corps (which is described brilliantly in Jeanette Ingold's 2006 Hitch) is not a well known organization, but hopefully this exquisite title will change that.

Pearson does a great job at giving background knowledge about so many things leading up to the creation of this group-- the Great Depression and its effects on families, the farming crisis caused by erosion, Theodore Roosevelt's attempts at setting up federal parkland, and Franklin Roosevelt's belief that the government needed to step in to help people find jobs. This is important, because most people under the age of 75 have no clue how bad the Depression was. The clothing that people wore was often little more than rags, and Pearson points out that some of the young men in the CCC were especially glad to join because food was so scarce that family members might take turns eating-- today might be your sister's day for food and yours would be tomorrow!

The CCC was a great idea for many reasons. Unemployed young men in cities are a problem. Put them to work at back breaking labor, have them send $25 of their $30 a month home to their families, and you cut down significantly on behavioral problems! I can't imagine young people today wanting to live in tents in the middle of no where and spend their days clearing brush, cutting through rock, and occasionally dealing with natural disasters, but when your next meal depends on it, you do what you have to do.

The work done on the parks seems almost incidental, but it wasn't. Not only did the men work on parks, but they helped restore farmland devastated by overgrazing and subsequent erosion. Pearson covers the different types of work done and the reasons behind it at the time. At the end of the book, there is some discussion about modern criticism of the program, much of it centered around things like clearing brush to prevent fires, when modern studies have proven that some brush needs to be left for some species to flourish and that controlled fires can help forests.

There is also ample discussion of the results of the racism at the time on the CCC. African American, Native Americans, and Hispanics all were part of the Corps, but usually were in their own units. Towns were reluctant to have African American units stationed near them, so they were often sent to the most remote places. Native Americans spent most of their time working on reservations. While this is certainly a shameful part of the US's past, I don't think it's fair to discount the good work that the CCC did, especially since many in administration did what they could to try to integrate the Corps.

This book is an interesting nonfiction choice, and the inclusion of stories of several different men makes this more personal and immediate. With the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great Depression coming up in a decade, this is certainly a book I am excited about having in my collection.

I have to admit that I am very conflicted about FDR; his treatment of Eleanor wasn't very admirable, but you can see why US citizens admired him; he was a very personable guy.

It's finally fall! Very glad for the cooler temperatures, which give me an excuse to wear a flannel shirt even though it's not Friday. And a skirt makes every outfit professional, even when it's denim, right?


  1. I remember one of my students trying desperately to grow mold one year, laughed when i read your description of the problems Nina was having in her experiment. And I enjoy reading about the Great Depression & those CCC workers, those we have to thank for many of the structures in our Colorado mountain parks. Thanks for both, Karen!

  2. I absolutely agree that you can wear a flannel shirt with a denim skirt!
    We had a similar program here in Canada. I read Grapes of Wrath about a year ago. It was a profound look at what the depression was like. Fighting for the Forest: How FDR's Civilian Conservation Corps Helped Save America is one I've added to my want to read list.

  3. I put my copy of "Nina..." on a free shelf in the school hallway. It stayed there for about 10 seconds when a girl with a wide smile picked it up. I echo your comments about this story. Thanks for featuring on MMGM.

  4. Nina sounds like an endearing character. I like the sound of the book. I will check it out. I had some uncles who were in the CCC and I would like to know more about it. Thanks for the heads up on Fighting for the Forest. I will have to get that one too.

  5. I'm so glad to hear about Fighting for the Forest -- I agree, the little I know about The Great Depression is fascinating, but we don't hear or teach very much about it. I'm adding this book to my list. Thanks for sharing, Karen!

  6. Two great books for the price of one post! What luck. Boy, do I remember trying to grow mold for a science project: bread, oranges, sneakers... thanks for sharing both of these books.