Friday, June 12, 2020

Guy Friday- Road Trip!

Mitchell, Tom. That Time I Got Kidnapped
April 2nd 2020 by HarperCollinsChildren’sBooks
Copy provided by the publisher

Jacob is a fourteen year old from England who has won a contest-- he gets to be an extra in a super hero film. Not only that, but the studio is paying to fly him to the US, and he gets some merchandise as well. His family is supportive (well, except for his older sister), and sends him on his way to the US with a pink sparkly suitcase labeled "Princess". Hey, it fits the requirement for a carry on! His father wants him to be sure not to miss his connecting flight, and his mother wants him to stay hydrated. Of course, when he lands in Chicago, he gets a little distracted and misses his flight. Not to worry! There's a snow storm, and flights get delayed, so Jacob decides to take a Greyhound bus. Things go okay until he meets Jennifer. She trips over his suitcase and injures her arm, so when she realizes she is being followed, she feels that Jacob should help her. She has a mysterious cardboard box that she won't let out of her sight, and is being followed by "the Cowboy", whom she tells Jacob is in the employ of her grandmother. Jennifer is traveling to LA to visit her father, and the two fall into an uneasy camaraderie. When the Cowboy show up, the two get off the bus in a hurry and start on an uncomfortable journey that includes stealing coats, traveling with zombies, and hitching a ride with UFO-logists. As his chance of making it to the movie studio in time gets slimmer and slimmer, Jacob finds out more information about Jennifer's journey, and becomes more invested in it. The first rule of road trips is that nothing goes right; will Jacob be able to make to make it to the filming in time?
Strengths: Jacob's reactions to the situations in which he finds himself are so perfectly portrayed. Fourteen year olds have just enough knowledge to get themselves in trouble, and Jacob's plans are Such a Good Idea. Snowed in? Take a bus! While the parent in me was shaking my head, I really appreciated that Jacob acts generally like a good kid. He calls his parents to reassure them, he doesn't think that Jennifer has a good plan and discusses this with her, but in general, he goes where the moment takes him. This was just pitch perfect in that regard. He's worried about missing the film, but genuinely concerned about Jennifer's well being and unwilling to abandon her. In his heart, he's enjoying his adventure, but it is overshadowed a bit by his worry that his parents are concerned. There are so many good details about the quirky people that they meet, and even the Cowboy has his moments. Jennifer doesn't always tell the truth in order to further her own agenda, but this just adds an appealing layer of mystery. Definitely an amusing book!
Weaknesses: While this was funny and spot on when it came to adolescent thinking, it wasn't quite as original as this author's How to Rob a Bank. I would have preferred a trip across England, but I'm sure a trip across the US seems exotic to readers in the UK.
What I really think: We are living in stressful times, and this is the sort of book that my students desperately need. Many of them are watching the news feeds constantly, and reading a print book that is gently amusing is something that would have a positive impact on their mental health, causing them to unplug and step away from various stressors in their lives. This is available in a prebind from Follett, so I definitely have it on my list to purchase!

Uss, Christina. The Colossus of Roads
May 5th 2020 by Margaret Ferguson Books (Holiday House)
ARC provided by Follet First Look

Rick Rusek lives in Los Angeles, and he is obsessed with traffic and traffic patterns. He has good reason to be; his parents are caterers who specialize in Polish food, and their work takes them all over the city. Also, he has motion sickness so severely that he can't really travel anywhere by car. Since his older brothers are off at college and he is not able to pitch in to help with the family business, he's transferred to a local elementary school to which he can walk so his parents don't have to take the time to drive him, and spends his after school time with his friend Mira and her family. He listens to traffic reports and watches web cam coverage of traffic, and thinks of constructive ways that the traffic patterns or signage could be changed so that the flow would be better. When Mira's Girl Scout troop decorates old highways signs for an outdoor art project spearheaded by famous artist Anna Diamond, Rick sees a great opportunity. Ms. Diamond's sister is the head of Althea Torres, who is the head of the Department of Transportation, and Rick thinks this might give him a boost to get his Snarl Solutions to someone who can implement them. Not only that, but when the highway signs are decorated, Ms. Diamond has to attach work orders to them so that they are reinstalled. Rick manages to get some of his ideas put up for public view, and is gratified that traffic seems to be improving so much that his parents' travels are easier. Soon, however, he finds that there is a bicycle group sabotaging his signs, and finds that even Mira's abuela is involved in efforts to control traffic! Since his parents' business is struggling because they have had to cut down on jobs to take care of him, Rick really wants to help out. Will he be able to find a way to get the Department of Transportation to take his Snarl Solutions seriously, and will his parents be able to get a lucrative studio catering gig?
Strengths: First of all, best character name ever. Sounds just like someone with whom I would have gone to high school! Interesting to read about someone with pernicious motion sickness, and the interest in traffic is also intriguing. Fun that he hung out with the Girl Scouts, too. All of the little elements (Polish food, economic difficulties, fiesty abuela with a HAM radio) added up to a fun story. I also appreciate how invested in biking the author is!
Weaknesses: Public art is interesting; I'm a big fan of yarn bombers, even though I would rather knit a sweater. The idea of taking old highway signs, decorating them, and putting them up along the highway, though-- that's not a real thing, is it? It sounds dangerous and expensive. What if the duct tape and paint come off and the sign tells people to do something that's just wrong? I worried way too much about this, but students won't.
What I really think: Will probably purchase-- it's a funny story with a great cover, but I still don't think hanging decorated signs along the highway is a good idea!
Ms. Yingling

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