Monday, January 06, 2020

MMGM- Close Calls and Cub

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.

Happy New Year! Of course, school people know that the REAL new year starts the Monday after Labor Day, but if you are silly and go by the calendar, I hope that your 2020 got off to a great start. Here are two utterly fantastic books to get you going!

Spradlin, Michael P. Close Calls: How Eleven US Presidents Escaped from the Brink of Death
January 7th 2020 by Bloomsbury Children's Books
E ARC Provided by Netgalley

There was a recent Jeopardy! champion who apparently got himself up to speed on many areas of knowledge by reading children's nonfiction books. This would have been an excellent one to consult for information about presidents and their lesser known brushes with death! 

The most interesting thing about this is that it wasn't all information about assassination attempts that I've read before. Readers who like war stories will be drawn in by Kennedy's PT-109 story (instead of November of 1963), and Ford's service on the USS Monterey (instead of the two attempts on his life while in office), and Eisenhower's involvement in World War II. The spying that George Washington had to deal with while he was otherwise engaged in the Revolutionary War is something I didn't know about, and the sidebar about the Tories was informative as well. Andrew Jackson's temperament and demeanor are described in enough detail that I was almost sympathetic to Richard Lawrence and his malfunctioning, damp pistols. Harry Truman's would be assassins, however, were almost a comedy of errors, although I am very glad that Truman was saved because he was living at Blair House while the White House was being renovated. 

Each entry is less than ten pages long, and written in a particularly fast-paced, engaging way. The tone is a bit flippant at times (Page 4 of the E ARC: "The constant spying drove Washington batty"), but only when the person discussed is not in any real danger. The section on Lincoln, and his dealings with the Pinkerton Detective Agency, was particularly gripping, and had me holding my breath with the one line description of events. Theodore Roosevelt also gets a treatment worthy of a man willing to give a ninety minute speech after his notes saved him from getting a bullet to his lungs, even though he did get hit and was bleeding!

It would have been nice to have the presidential portraits of the leaders discussed, although many readers today would just look those up online.(

My only real problem with the book was that the E ARC was a bit slow to load, making it difficult to go back and list all of the presidents mentioned. The table of contents has clever titles, but does not list the subjects. 

The short, high-interest discussions of various incidents might lead readers to further pursue longer books, like Swanson's Chasing Lincoln's Killer, Seiple's Death on the River of Doubt (Roosevelt), and Martin's In Harm's Way (Kennedy). This is a compelling, quotable book that is sure to interest readers who like history, danger, or who want to add some presidential anecdotes to their lunch table conversation!

Copeland, Cynthia. Cub
January 7th 2020 by Algonquin Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Cindy finds that middle school in the early 1970s is fairly stressful-- all the cool girls are wearing elephant bells and blue eye shadow, but her parents are more conservative and make her wear longer dresses and sensible shoes. She also finds that they encourage her brothers more than they encourage her. She has one really good friend, but that friend starts hanging out with the cool, mean girls. On the bright side, she finds a boy in her class with whom she has a lot in common, and the two hang out and talk a lot. Also, she talks to her English teacher about writing, and her teacher connects her to a local newspaper reporter, a woman, who brings Cindy along to various events and helps her write articles, one of which is published in the newspaper. Cindy manages to make new friends, keeps up with writing as well as photography, and manages to gain the support of her parents for her endeavors.
Strengths: The details of school, fashion, home life, and sociopolitical events are all covered in an engaging and interesting way. The fact that this is a graphic novel actually helps tremendously with the understanding of what the world looked like at this point in history. I loved the reported with the VW Beetle, and yes, Cindy's parents probably would have been totally fine with her tagging along. This was also rather poignant-- in the 1970s, writing was still something that one could use for a career. I am always worried for journalism majors now!
Weaknesses: This was definitely a white, middle class story, but also a great feminist one. We just need some graphic novels about people from various backgrounds, and if they are also historical, so much the better. Graphic novels are a strain to read on my e reader (the pages have to be about 3"x5", so the print is minute), so I'm sorry for the lack of details in this review.
What I really think: Like Holms' Sunny books, this one made me ridiculously happy, since it covers a period of time during my own childhood. Will probably purchase at least two copies. I do sort of wish the cover were avocado green, though. Or maybe purple. Or orange. Better if it were a plaid of all three-- that would have captured the colors of the time! I was a little surprised that girls wore jeans to school; we weren't allowed until 1976.

My 2020 didn't get off to a great start. Member of staff broke a 35 year old Christmas decoration as the tree was being put away, Sylvie barked nonstop at her food dish, and I read NINE books that were just... meh. Not bad, just not what I needed. Nothing traumatic, just not a great start.

I read 836 books in 2019, and only reviewed about 400 of them on my blog. Often, I read a book, know it's not something I'm going to buy, and then am too lazy to write a review. Reviews take almost as long to write as the book takes to read sometimes!

2020-- I think it's going to be tough. So, I'm giving myself permission to not feel bad about reading a book and not writing a review. That said, I have 8th graders being assigned TED talks, so I was glad to see:

Anderson, Chris and Oberweger, Lori. Thank You for Coming to My TED Talk: A Teen Guide to Great Public Speaking 
March 10th 2020 by HMH Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss

This has a lot of good information on public speaking, related to TED talks but applicable to many settings. There are lots of anecdotes about specific TED talks, which readers could then look up online and use as examples.

Public speaking is such an important skill to have, and I love it when class reports have to be delivered orally, but I don't know that teachers always model presentations for students. In absence of this, books like this can fill a gap. My only concern is that it is a bit lengthy-- if my students are working on their TED talks and doing other homework, are they going to stop to read a 160 page book to help them out? It would have been nice to have more lists for browsing so readers could get some advice without having to read the entire book.

I would definitely purchase this for a high school where public speaking classes are offered, but am debating purchasing for my middle school library. Perhaps the teacher assigning the talks might want to buy a copy to have as a resource just for her students.


  1. Don't feel bad about not writing reviews--some books just aren't worth that much time!

  2. Definitely adding Cub to my reading list. It sounds so interesting and there will probably be a lot in here from my childhood days. And I can imagine it's very difficult to read graphic novels on an e-reader. Yikes! Hope you've had a great reading week, Karen!