Wednesday, April 22, 2020

On These Magic Shores

Yamile Saied Méndez. On These Magic Shores
April 21st 2020 by Tu Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Minerva Miranda's single mom works hard to support Minerva and her younger sisters, Kota and Avi. It involves more than one job, child care provided by a friend for Avi, and hand-me-down clothes. The family is close knit and has fun traditions from the mother's Argentine background, including a tooth fairy mouse and feeding milk to the fairies, or pequenos. The younger girls love all manner of stories about fairies, but Minerva is less than thrilled about one story in particular. Her school puts on a production of Peter Pan every year. Minerva goes to a lot of trouble to try out, only to be cast as Tiger Lily, a role which she thinks is extremely problematic. There are bigger problems, though-- one Sunday night, her mother doesn't come home. Minerva calls the nursing home where her mother works and finds that she did not show up for her last shift, but Minerva does not identify herself. She also makes sure that their landlord, Mr. Chang, doesn't find out. She finds some food for her sisters, takes Avi to day care earlier than usual, and gets herself and Kota to school. At school, she has made friends with Maverick, who is adopted and has six older sisters, and his help makes it possible for Minerva to juggle caring for her sisters. She tells the play director that she doesn't want the part, and is released from her obligation with the understanding that she needs to find someone else to take the part and pay the $50 participation fee. The problematic nature of the role is later addressed. As the week wears on, Maverick's mother and sisters also help out, and Minerva reaches out to her estranged grandmother in Argentina. When her mother returns, having been in the hospital, Minerva knows that she will need a lot of help, especially since her mother seems to be getting worse instead of better.
Strengths: For some reason, middle school students like to read about children who need to take care of themselves; I always refer to it as the Boxcar Children Effect. It is not something that would be good to have to do in real life, but it's interesting to think about. Readers in a similar home situation will feel seen, and readers who have not experienced this will feel lucky. Minerva is a great character who really thinks through her situation and deals with it the best she can. She reaches out to a support network when she is at the end of her resources. This is an important picture of the situation that many tween students live on a daily basis, and a good reminder that sometimes problems in class reflect this often unexplored reality.
Weaknesses: I wish there had been more detail about the mother's illness; it was very serious, and it was good that the girls had their grandmother step in, but I wanted to know more about the nature of her illness. Also, I'm not sure how well current middle school students know Peter Pan. When my daughters saw the movie at a friend's house 20 years ago, I remember thinking "Oh, no. That is not something that holds up at all."
What I really think: Like Rosenberg and Shang's upcoming  Not Your All-American Girl (July 7th 2020, Scholastic Press), this covers a play and outdated social expectations for casting. Since this is set in the present rather than the 1980s, the teachers involved are open to changing the play, and even breaking with tradition and trying a new play.
Ms. Yingling

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