Monday, March 30, 2020

MMGM- Wink and A Sporting Chance

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.

Harrell, Rob. Wink
March 31st 2020 by Dial Books
ARC provided by Follett First Look

When twelve-year-old Ross has an alarming lump above his eye, things happen quickly; his father takes him to the doctor for tests, the doctor calls back right away, and radiation is scheduled immediately. This makes it somewhat difficult to process the fact that he has a rare cancer that could cause him to lose his sight in both eyes. His dad and stepmother are very supportive, as is his best friend, Abby, and one of the radiation technicians, Frank. The treatment makes his eye very dry, requiring goopy eye drops, and he also has to wear a hat to school to keep light away from his face. His hair starts to fall out in clumps at the most inopportune time. Not the coolest look. Kids, especially his friend Isaac, give him a wide berth, but someone keeps posting memes about Ross that are quite mean spirited and hurtful. Not one to be dragged down by life, Ross starts to learn guitar from Frank, but is dealt another blow when he finds out that Abby is going to be moving away. Most of the times, he is fine, but occasionally he is hit by the magnitude of the situation he is facing. He makes an uneasy alliance with Jimmy, who has been a bit of a bully at school, but who joins Ross and Abby in a band for the school talent show. Ross might not find enlightenment and inspiration as he struggles through his cancer treatments, but he does find a way to continue to live his life.
Strengths: Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Not Reading. Stu Truly. Zen and the Art of Faking It. My Life as a Potato. These are all books that can be placed into the hands of 98% of my students with great success. The main characters are all facing some kind of challenge, but they meet it with good spirits, and get involved in some gentle highjinks along the way. You'd think that a lot of books would be like that, but they are amazingly hard to find. This book, based in part on the author's struggle with a similar cancer as an adult, is on the more serious side, but never becomes maudlin or slow paced. There is a little bit of discussion about Ross' mother passing away from cancer when he was five, but even that is worked into the story in a clever way, with the father telling Ross that he himself struggled with the death and needed help, and Ross may need more than he is asking for.  I especially liked that Abby calls Ross out as not being a supportive friend-- sure, her moving away isn't anywhere near as terrible as his cancer, but it still matters to her. Even the relationships with Isaac and Jimmy ring true and add a layer of depth to the story. Really enjoyed this one.
Weaknesses: This may be because the author's cancer was in 2006, but I found myself wanting a few more details about the process through which Ross was going. What were the treatments designed to do? What were the side effects? How would they know if Ross would have further problems? I know that cancer is a difficult disease, but for middle schoolers reading about it for the first time, more details would have made the process make more sense.
What I really think: The only question is how MANY copies of this I should buy. Two? Three? The addition of the line drawings will make this easier to sell to fans of Notebook Novels, so maybe three.

 Alexander, Lori and Drummond, Allan (Illustrator)
A Sporting Chance: How Paralympics Founder Ludwig Guttmann Saved Lives with Sports 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

This was an interesting nonfiction book, which was a nice size. My e reader shows it at 132 pages, but that includes a timeline, fantastic bibliography, notes, and an index. The main text comes in at 110 pages, putting it in that magic 100+ page range that language arts teachers like to require. Using a mix of period photographs and illustrations, it tells the story of Ludwig Guttman's involvement in the treatment and rehabilitation of people with traumatic spinal cord injuries. During WWII, the life expectancy of people with such injuries was about five months, and Guttman felt that this could be inmproved. He attended medical school and started to practice medicine, only to have WWII and the rise of the Nazis imperil him and his family. He moved to England, where he worked with many veterans. After the war, when many of his patients survived, he started to think about improving their quality of life, and felt that sports gave them needed exercise as well as purpose. He started the Stoke Mandeville Games, which grew over the succeeding years and eventually became the Paralympic Games.
Strengths: I am always looking for interesting narrative nonfiction, and this book actually would have been great for this year's National History Day theme of "breaking barriers". It moves along quickly, and the illustrations are great at understanding some of the points, as well as appealing to fans of notebook novels. Guttman's experiences in WWII Germany will add another group of readers to this inspiring tale. Sometimes, it just takes one person to look at an issue differently to make a great impact on many lives.
Weaknesses: While I really liked the style of illustrations, it was a very odd mix that felt like they were just trying to take up space. Not really bad, just an odd choice.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and seeing this being a popular title for both pleasure reading and research.


  1. I have a family friend whose daughter has been diagosed with bone cancer. She's a senior in high school, but would love a book with some real scenes of others going through what she has. No matter who says we don't need sad & scary books, I think kids do want to read & think about how they might handle a sickness like cancer. Thanks for the review, Karen, & for the second nf book, too.

  2. I've been hearing a lot of buzz about Wink. You review was the best summary of them all. I have the story high on my reading list. Stay safe and healthy in this crazy time. I'm not expecting our schools to reconvene this spring. So sad...

  3. Wink really sounds like a heavy read -- I hope there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I appreciate your honesty. It is a book I will review, because it is a book some kids will identify with. Like your thorough review of A Sporting Chance. I love stories like this and will be looking for it! Thanks for the recommendations today!

  4. Thanks for the reviews of these books Karen. I've added Wink to my list and my library actually has it on order. When the library finally opens I am probably going to be overwhelmed by my requests!

  5. I loved Wink. I'll be reviewing it on my blog soon. A Sporting Chance sounds like a really good book. Thanks for telling me about it.

  6. Wink sounds like a story about a heavy topic that does it well. My library is closed but still buying books so I'll have to see if they have it. Thanks.

  7. Both of these are books I am definitely going to read as a member of the Schneider Jury :)

    Happy reading this week!

  8. Thank you so much for the great review of Wink. I keep seeing this cover and I'm happy to learn more about it. I'll be adding it to my reading list. Thanks for the shares, Karen! (and my apologies for making the rounds so late)