Monday, March 02, 2020

MMGM- City Spies and More Than Marmalade

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.

Ponti, James. City Spies
March 10th 2020 by Aladdin
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Sara is a hacker who managed to break into the foster care computer system to report her troublesome foster parents; of course, she is the one who got in trouble. When she is getting ready to appear in court, a dapper British man appears and says he is her new lawyer, and proceeds to get her cleared to go to a special school. She has her doubts about this man, but he has said to trust him, and once he helps her lock her foster parents out on the roof of their house looking for money so that she can retrieve her belongings from her room, she feels that he must have her best interests at heart. Soon, "Mother" (as he is known) is whisking her off to Scotland. There is a weather observation facility serving as a cover for a clandestine MI6 group of orphans from around the globe who all have special skills. Sara, who is now known as Brooklyn (since all of the children are known as the city from which they came), is replacing a girl who quit to help the local school group participate in a global environmental challenge. Brooklyn and the others (Paris, Sydney, Rio, and Kat(hmandu))are going to participate, but only so that they can make sure that the competition isn't attacked. There have been many instances of people being attacked by the Purple Thumb, and MI6 is employing every unit they can to solve the mystery before more agents die. First, of course, Brooklyn has to learn basic spy skills very quickly, and then has to prepare to enter the Stavros Challenge put forth by Stavros Sinclair and his company, Sinclair Scientifica and held during the Youth Summit for the Environment in Paris. One of Brooklyn's jobs is to learn to scale the outside of a building, get inside, and hack into the computer system. When the kids get to Paris and start their spy operation, however, they find that things are more complicated than they expected. They must rely on their skills, Paris' knowledge of the city, and the ever shifting stream of information in order to figure out and stop the forces of evil.
Strengths: Spy mysteries such as Horowitz's Alex Rider (2001), Benway's Also Known As (2013), Bradley's Double Vision (2012) Carter's Gallagher Girls (2005), Stuart Gibbs' various series, Monaghan's A Girl Named Digit (2012), and Muchamore's CHERUB are THE most popular type of book in my middle school library, hands down. Ponti's Framed series does well, but students are going to adore the action, adventure, traveling and environmental concerns of City Spies.
Weaknesses: I had the same objection to this as I had to Carter's upcoming The Winterborne Home for Vengeance and ValorThere seems to be a trend towards having characters who are orphaned, in foster care, and then approached by some sort of secret organization to work. I know that it helps to get parents out of the way so that middle grade characters can have adventures, but since I do have students who are in foster care, I wish that the portrayal of the system were more realistic.
What I really think: Probably have to purchase two copies of this, just to keep up with demand!

Tolin, Rosanne. More than Marmalade: Michael Bond and the Story of Paddington Bear
March 3rd 2020 by Chicago Review Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Born in 1926, Bond was two years older than Fred Rogers. Their biographies are a fascinating look at the lives of young me during the 20th century. Like Rogers, Bond had a supportive family, and one that encouraged him to read. He was unhappy in his secondary school, so left at the age of 14, and took a variety of jobs, including working for the BBC as an engineers assistant. During WWII, he survived a bombing in Reading, and treid to join the Royal Air Force, but airsickness forced him into the army instead. He did some writing while in the service, and continued when he returned to civilian life. He was keenly aware of the issues facing refugees and immigrants, and Paddington Bear is based on some of these memories. The first book did well, and he continued to write a huge number of books about the bear, as well as guinea pig Olga da Polga. He incessant work led to a divorce from his first wife, with whom he then shared custody of the stuffed Paddington bear, whom he had bought one Christmas at a department store. He was involved with some of the merchandising of the stuffed bears, and continued to work until his death in 2017.
Strengths: This was just fun to read, in the way that The Childhood of Famous Americans books were back in the day. This has the best description of how to play conkers I have seen, and the glimpses into every day life are fantastic.
Weaknesses: I'm not sure that any of my students are at all familiar with this series. I have a couple of books, but can't think that they are read at all.
What I really think: I will purchase this to use for the 7th grade decades project as a good depiction of life during the 20th century, as this is an interesting biography like Uhlberg's The Sounds of Silence.

Ms. Yingling


  1. I've not read any James Ponti, but if this is anything like the Alex Rider series then I completely agree with what you've shared. And YES on the trend about characters who are orphaned and begin some great adventure while their parents are gone. It's troubling to see how often this scenario is played out in middle grade literature. Thanks, Karen!

  2. You had me from your opening on CITY SPIES. What a thrilling read. But, I do like your point about using orphans/kids in foster settings to work for secret organizations. I never knew about Michael Bond and the Story of Paddington Bear. What an intriguing story involving his memories of WWII. It sounds fun!

  3. City Spies sounds interesting. I see more boys than girls being interested in this genre, but there sure are enough to keep them circulating. I'll look for this one.

  4. Both of these books sound great! Although I have never read anything by James Ponti, I know someone who read an entire trilogy by him (Dead City) and enjoyed it, so I'm sure City Spies is good as well! Thanks for the great reviews!

  5. I just managed to get a copy of City Spies at a conference, and it looks amazing. Thanks for your thoughts, I am looking forward to reading it, although I don't have a lot of spy series readers this year (or last). I might have to do some serious book talking.

  6. I've never been a fan of kid/spy stories, but this one sounds good. The Bond bio sounds interesting too. Thanks for the post.