Monday, July 13, 2020

MMGM- Danny Constantino's First Date

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Acampora, Paul. Danny Constantino's First Date
July 14th 2020 by Dial Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Danny lives in a small Cuper Cove, a town that LOVES Halloween, so he and his friend Ajay are planning epic costumes, with the help of Ajay's older sister, Asha. When Danny mentions that he would love to see his friend Natalie, who moved away several years before, Asha takes Danny's phone and texts her an invitation to the dance. The big deal? Natalie is now the very famous movie star Natalie Flores Griffin. She not only texts back that she would love to go to the dance, but posts on social media as well, bringing Danny into the realm of (in his Gram's words) ChatFace Snapcracker viruses. Kids at school want to know if their idol will be there, and even his real estate agent/ mayoral candidate mother wants to use Natalie's presence to her own benefit. Danny is a bit overwhelmed-- he doesn't even know how to dance, and now he has to be in the spotlight with a famous star? It is a little help when Natalie and her mother show up to stay with her aunt in Cuper Cove. Natalie is the same friend that he remembers from third grade, but she also has a very pretty smile, and Danny is glad to see her. He and his friends try to think of ways that Natalie can attend the festivities without being seen or starting a riot, including making a cardboard costume version of their school mascot, Cooper the Unicorn. Thanks to Zoey, whose father owns the local appliance store, they have an endless supply of cardboard, and Asha, Zoey, and Natalie all turn out to have fantastic cardboard construction engineering skills. There are a number of other things going on with Danny-- his father died in the Marines when he was very young, but his mother still seems to think that the service is a good career path for him. He misses his dog. He is starting to think that his bus driver, Mr. Beamon, might be interested in dating his mother. Gram is the secretary at Danny's school, drives an awesome green vintage Camaro (which I imagine looks like the one below. My cousin had a red one; so cool.), and is an excellent, funny, caring foil to Danny's over scheduled mother. As the activities surrounding the Halloween celebration start to ramp up and Natalie gets dragged more and more into those and away from just hanging out with Danny tensions rise, especially since Danny didn't actually ask Natalie to the dance at all. Will Danny's first date be his last, or will he and Natalie be able to deal with all of the other demands on their time?
Strengths: First of all, Acampora should ALWAYS include grandparents in his books. Gram is absolutely fantastic, and having her serve as the school secretary in a small town is inspired. She is acerbic but loving, and reminded me a bit of my mother. Having had a friend (who was a boy and on whom I might have had a crush) move away in the 6th grade and come back to town in 9th, I can say that the relationship between Natalie and Danny is spot on, and the fact that Danny helped Natalie through her parents' divorce just by being nice and encouraging her to be a nicer person was very touching. The Rom-Com parallels, pointed out by one of his friends, are all nicely observed. The supporting characters, from Mr. Beamon the bus driver to Ajay and Asha to the obsessed fan Mira are all nicely drawn and add to the plot rather than distract from it. The writing is approaching Sonnenblickian, evidenced by this clip, taken from the uncorrected E ARC "In the last few hours, I've pretended to be a Greek warrior, witnessed the death of a cardboard unicorn, insulted a  Hollywood movie starlet, run over Dorothy and her friends from Oz, and watched my grandmother get cut out of a shark. And it's not even lunchtime yet." Great, great stuff.
Weaknesses: I never really quite understood the mother's motivations; I loved how Danny and Gram dealt with her, and it was nice to see her change, but why was she spending so much time away from Danny? Students won't care about this, but I was intrigued.
What I Really Think: I loved this author's Rachel Spinelli Punched Me in the Face (2011),How to Avoid Extinction (2016) and Confusion is Nothing New (2018), and this new title is the best yet. I will order two copies if the budget can stand it, because I need lots of copies to hand to fans of Dan Richard's Stu Truly, Greenwald's Charlie Joe Jackson (of which I've had six copies- one perished) and Vance's The Heartbreak Messenger (2013)

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Greenberg, Jan and Jordan, Sandra. World of Glass: The Art of Dale Chihuly.
May 12th 2020 by Abrams Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

If you've never seen any of Chihuly's art installations, it's hard to describe how amazing they are. The blown glass pieces themselves are amazing, but the way that Chihuly sets these pieces into parks and plant exhibits is truly extraordinary. I was lucky enough to see the exhibits in Kew Gardens in 2005, and my daughter's elementary school actually hosted this artist while he was working on an installation at the Franklin Park Conservatory.

This book is a great overview for fans and newcomers alike. The first three chapters cover Chihuly's childhood, college, and young adult experiences, which included traveling around Europe in the early 1960s. He became interestedin art in college, and after finishing and getting two masters degrees, he returned to the west coast and set up the Pilchuck Glass School with other artists in the 1970s. The book then describes the course of his art career, which is doubly remarkable because he lost sight in one eye in the mid 1970s, and has had to rely on others to actually make a good deal of the sculptures that he envisions. His various installations and series are described and well illustrated.

This was written in a particularly interesting way, going back and forth between what was going on in Chihuly's life with how his art was developing. There's a great mixof pictures and text, and the notes and bibliography, as well as a partial listing of exhibits, at the end of the book are helpful. This is a great resource for young readers who might have to do a research project on an artist, or who want a good overview of Chihuly's work. It would also make a great coffee table book for a fan of this artist.

Holm, Jennifer L. and Holm, Matthew.
Curtain Call (Babymouse: Tales from the Locker #4)
July 14th 2020 by Random House Books for Young Readers

We all know a Babymouse; a tween who craves constant attention and adoration and needs to be at the center of everything. Babymouse, however, isn't having any luck with her efforts to be seen, and the only time she is seen, it's for unfortunate occurrences like being unprepared in class or tripping with her cafeteria tray. When it is announced that the school will be putting on a play, Babymouse is sure this is her ticket to fame, but in typical Babymouse fashion, she prepares poorly and ends up being cast as Clown #2. She doesn't even get the good clown costume; Locker, who is cast as Clown #1 does! When Babymouse is also assigned to set construction, she hopes to get her assignment changed to something more glamorous like makeup.Of course, she is not successful at that, but eventually finds that set construction has its merits. The star of the play is, of course, her nemesis Felicia, whose evil deeds against Babymouse include using makeup on her face that cause an allergic reaction. When Felicia isn't able to make it on stage for the final scene, will Babymouse be able to save the day?
Strengths: Tales from the Locker is an excellent beginning Notebook Novel for readers who have torn through the first Babymouse series. Her middle school struggles are so real, and the mix of pictures and text can be helpful to readers who are struggling but still want books that reflect their current experiences. I enjoyed the fact that this talked about the experience of being on the stage crew more than it addressed the performers; there are a lot of books where plays are put on, but few highlight this portion of the production. The real draw of these books is the crazy and misguided things that Babymouse does because they seem like a good idea but which end up being humorous.
Weaknesses: I don't remember Babymouse having Amelia Bedelia-like problems with language (she struggles with the term "crew" and several others) in previous books, and I think tweens are better at using context clues than she is. Also, she seems oddly bereft of friends. Most books depict main characters as having at least one main friend, but Babymouse seemed very alone, and I worried about her!
What I really think: My epiphany after reading this: I read too much Alcott as a tween, and made me a Goody Two Shoes mop wringer who always wants to do what is "right" and help people out. That's why I have never been a big fan of Junie B. Jones and other realistically flawed characters. I'm glad that Babymouse makes my students happy, but I just worry about her!


  1. An acerbic but loving school secretary who happens to be the grandmother of a book's character? I'm sold!

  2. These books sound great! Danny Constantino's First Date sounds like a super-fun read! I've actually seen some of Dale Chihuly's installations in person, and they are amazing, so it would be neat to read a book about him! The Babymouse series also sounds interesting. Thanks for the great post!

  3. Nice Camaro and ...First Date sounds like a story many would enjoy (including myself). I enjoyed the author's other books and can't wait to read this one. Thanks for posting on MMGM and congrats for taking the top spot in our lineup.

  4. I could have sworn that I have read at least one book by Paul Acampora, but not so according to GoodReads. Perhaps I read something before I joined. Anyway, you have motivated me to try this one.

  5. First Date sounds like it is well-written with a variety of very unique charachters and an engaging and entertaining plot. I'm sold. I want to know more -- especially about the grandmother. What fun! And I love the book you share on Chihuly's work. I attended an exhibition of his work in Columbus, OH, years ago. His work was everywhere and it was so magical! I go anywhere to see it again. You sold me on the book! Thanks!

  6. I am going to have to hunt down a copy of Danny Constantino's First Date. It sounds terrific. The others look good as well, but that one really captured my interest. Thanks for the post.

  7. Thanks for the great reviews. I am going to check out some of Paul Acampora's work after reading this. Have a great week!