Friday, June 05, 2020

Guy Friday- Brave Like That and Slamdown Town

Stoddard, Lindsey. Brave Like That
June 2nd 2020 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Cyrus was abandoned as a baby at a fire station in Northfield, Minnesota. He was adopted by Brooks, one of the firemen who was able to calm his crying. On Cyrus' birthday, a dog appears at the station, and Cyrus feels an immediate connection with the pup, whom he names Parker. His father, however, does not want a dog, so takes him to a local vet who then sends Parker to a shelter. Cyrus is starting middle school, and is expected to follow in Brooks' footsteps as a football player. He likes the game a little, but he is small for his age, and isn't keen on the behavior of the other players. He would rather hang out with his grandmother, who is in an assisted living facility following a stroke, but with whom he still enjoys listening to music. At school, there is a new student, Eduardo, and some of the boys on the team start to give him a hard time, calling him "EdWEIRDo". Cyrus likes the boy, and connects with him over the picture books that his language arts teacher reads. Cyrus can't read well, but has become very clever at hiding this from everyone. He is determined to be with Parker, and ends up volunteering at the animal shelter, making some friends from school in the process. One of the firefighters retires, and is replaces by a new one, Sam, who is the first female firefighter the station has had. Cyrus has to lie to get out of football practice in order to volunteer, but he feels that it is worth it. When the shelter tells him that Parker is going to be sent to another shelter, will he be able to convince his father that he should adopt the dog... and also, quit the football team?
Strengths: This had a lot of elements that were interesting; scenes at the fire station, volunteering with an animal shelter, a beloved grandmother, and of course, dogs and football. Middle school is a minefield of interpersonal relationships, so it was interesting to see Cyrus's understanding that for his own good, he should hang out with the football team, even though he doesn't much like them. Of course, it is even better to show him realizing WHY he doesn't like them, and challenging their treatment of a fellow student he likes. It's good to see this sort of behavior modeled in books. It's also interesting that Cyrus struggles with reading but is trying to get better. There's a nice shout out to Jillian Heise and her Classroom Book a Day!
Weaknesses: This is a bit slow paced, but I could see this being used in a classroom as a read aloud or a book circle group, since there is a lot about toxic masculinity to unpack.
What I really think: I wish it had a bit more about the dog or football, which would make it easier to sell to students.
Nicoll, Maxwell and Smith, Matthew. Slamdown Town
January 28th 2020 by Harry N. Abrams
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Ollie is in 6th grade and is small for his age. His older brother, Hollis, is in 8th, and has become increasingly hostile towards him. Both boys are very interested in the staged world of professional wrestling, especially since their mother once competed as the Brash Banshee and is now working as a ref at the local wrestling venue, Slamdown Town. Ollie hopes to be a wrestler himself one day, and hopes to attend tryouts for new wrestlers, but realizes his chances aren't good. When Hollis gives him a present of a chewed piece of gum from older wrestler Professor Pain (Ollie's favorite), something odd happens when his brother forces him to chew the gum-- he turns into an older version of himself who looks ready to rumble. Consulting Professor Pain's videos, Ollie and his friend Tamiko work to make Ollie a great wrestler, the Big Chew,  who will be able to defeat his mother's nemesis, the Werewrestler. Ollie has to master a costume, the banter in the ring, and a signature move. He must also defeat enough other wrestlers that the Werewrestler will be interested in challenging him. It's not as easy job; Ollie is struggling to keep up with his school work, alienates Tamiko with his obsession over wrestling, and has to deal with the fact that the owner threatens to close Slamdown Town unless he can make more money. Will Ollie be able to not go down for the count?

There are lots of good bits of information about staging a professional wrestling fight. Professor Pain's videos lay everything out for Ollie, but it's not that easy. The costume alone is difficult, and involves a lot of strange items from the family attic, including a pair of Ollie's grandfather's underpants that become an integral part of the costume! The banter is dissected, and Ollie tries his best to get a handle on what works best. The signature move, the Bubble Blast, is slightly illegal, but hitting his opponents with his wrestling boot with gum on it certainly is effective. Hollis and Ollie clearly have a lot invested in the sport, and eventually overcome their differences because of it.

I really enjoyed the fact that the wrestlers were split between males and females, and compete against each other without any difficulty. I am completely unfamiliar with professional wrestling, so don't know if this is true to form. It works out particularly well when a little known rule comes in to play during the Big Chew's match with Werewrestler!

Including Ollie's struggles in school, and problems with his best friend, ground this somewhat goofy fantasy with some realistic problems that many middle grade readers face. I wasn't entirely sold on the fact that one wrestling match would save Slamdown Town, but since the owner was an egomaniacal caricature, it just added a level of silliness to the story.

Readers who understand the world of professional wrestling will certainly enjoy this romp, but I can seeing being popular also with fans of Patterson's I Funny or Zach King's magic Trilogy. The energy and level of goofiness is about the same.

I have never had any students ask me for books about pro wrestling, so I'm not entirely sure about how well this will circulate.

Ms. Yingling

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