Sunday, August 23, 2020

American Girl Guides and My Eyes are Up Here

Seymour, Melissa and Lewis, Stevie (Illustrator).
Making a Difference: Using Your Talents and Passions to Change the World
August 24th 2020 by American Girl Publishing Inc
Copy provided by Weber Shandwick PR Agency

Tweens have a lot of energy, and are also very curious about the world around them. Even though I haven't seen my students in person for a while, I know that many of them have been going to protests, making masks for hospital workers, and will be looking for other ways to help out during this difficult year. Making a Difference is a great resource to help get started.

The plentiful illustrations are charming and perfect for this age; a little bit like their favorite graphic novels, bright and colorful, and showing a wide range of cultural diversity, including differently abled girls. The text is a bit on the smaller side, but this allows the book to be a handy size for carrying around when making plans with friends.

This has several quizzes and checklists, which are always fun, and a great way to start thinking about projects. The book advocates starting with something near and dear to one's heart, which is always good advice, but also addresses the issue of thinking about others and the wider world. I especially liked the suggested activities for combinations of what interests readers and what kind of activists they might want to be. Many students have no idea where to start, and this gives very specific and concrete ways to proceed, as well as help in finding opportunities. The only other thing I might have included would have been National Organizations or web links at the end, although those are always a difficult inclusion, since things change rapidly.

I found it especially interesting that there is a chapter about "Easing Your Worries". While young readers really want to make a difference, it's all too easy for them to get overwhelmed with the sheer number of problems that need to be solved.

Social activism was not something that was encouraged when I was growing up, but if I had had a book like this, I'm sure I would have used it to start a recycling club at school and fund raise for new books for the school library, and would have been able to get a lot of work done without bothering my parents with a thousand questions. Definitely a great resource for the young activist or would-be activist in your life.

Holyoke, Nancy and Chavarri, Elisa.
A Smart Girl's Guide: Crushes: Dating, Rejection, and Other Stuff 
August 24th 2020 by American Girl Publishing Inc
Copy provided by Weber Shandwick PR Agency

If you need any reason to make sure that books like this are updated, here's a sentence that you will NOT find in this new American Girl book: "Girls, on their part, like the broad square shoulders of boys, they heavy, back brushed hair, their strong, capable hands, their masterful manner." (Frances Burton Strain, Teen Days, 1946) So much has changed in even the last five years, that giving an older book to a tween will not be helpful.

This freshly updated title has colorful illustrations that reflect current fashions as well as cultural diversity of depictions. The biggest difference for me is seeing the drawings reflect a more realistic range of sizes in students, instead of everyone being super thin. With the recent popularity of graphic novels, tweens are well attuned to attractive, quality illustrations, and will be pleased with these.

Navigating the world of romantic feelings is difficult, and something not everyone wants to discuss with adults or even friends, so having honest language that talks about what a crush is, what fears might attend that, and how to positively interact with others in that manner is very important. This update is good about sometimes being vague about the gender of crushes, but does address some concerns about girls talking to boys and suggesting ways to feel comfortable being friends with them or talking to them. There is not much discussion of nonbinary students, but I imagine the next update will probably include that information.

Issues tangential to dating, such as popularity, harassment, and self image are also covered in ways that tweens can understand them. There are quizzes and check lists, so girls who do discuss these things with friends will have a good time using these as a springboard to conversations. I particularly liked the section about "problem partners" and instructions on how to break up; one of my most awkward moments in 9th grade was when a friend asked me if I "liked" a boy, I said "Of course", and found myself dating him for 24 hours. Tweens are not the most tactful people, so instructions on how to considerately break up with people could save a lot of hurt feelings.

The American Girl company also has books on topics such as Money, Cooking, and Middle School, and these are great resources for tweens who need extra reassurance and a helpful road map to have at hand when driving along the winding and bumpy road of adolescent relationships.

Zimmerman, Laura. My Eyes are Up Here
June 23rd 2020 by Dutton Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Greer's mother has a relocation help business, so she is always being dragged off to meet the children of clients. Kids her age generally don't want to talk to her, but when she meets Jackson Oates and his mom at the habitual coffee shop, he's different. Friendly, smart, helpful, funny-- Greer instantly likes him. The problem? Greer is so uncomfortable about her large breasts that she retreats from a lot of social connections, and figures that Jackson will immediately make new friends and ignore her. He does make friends, including her best friend Maggie's brother and a lot of other baseball players, but he still continues to talk to her. Usually more concerned with advanced academics than other activities (which can often involve people looking at her), Greer becomes interested in volleyball and tries out for the team. It's difficult to play with a sports bra squeezed over her regular, but the coach sends her a link to a garment called "the Stabilizer" that works wonders. Greer makes the teams, but another hurdle is getting a uniform to fit her 30H figure. Greer and Jackson' families spend some tiem together, and his problematic younger sister takes to Greer. At the same time, Maggie is involved with the school production of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and is being her usual outspoken self when questioning the wisdom of doing such an outdated play. Greer is hopeful about volleyball and Jackson until events complicate matters and she almost disengages, retreating into her XXL sweatshirts instead of confronting her problems. Will she ever be able to make peace with herself?
Strengths: I loved this one SO much. Greer was smart and funny, and I think that so many of us can commiserate with wanting to hide behind clothes. Jackson was absolutely crush worthy, and treated Greer really well even when her actions were confusing. In fact, all of the characters were well drawn; the pushy, uncommunicative mother; the squirrely younger brother; Maggie; the phenomenal home ec teacher-- whew. Smart, smart writing, and such a vivid description of what Greer felt like living in her body. After I finished this, I couldn't pick up any other books because I knew I wouldn't like anything I read half as well. Greer, with all of her humor, insecurity, and misguided attempts to get through high school, reminded me a lot of myself, and of my daughter who probably wore an oversized hoodie to high school 90% of the time.
Weaknesses: Some reviewers have mentioned that this isn't quite in line with "body positivity" and that there would be more resources for Greer for bras, because her size was not unusual. I didn't immediately think about the "body positivity" aspect; as someone who is absolutely average sized and still wants to live in obscuring clothes, I just saw this as how one girl who was a little different than her classmates took that difference to heart in wanting to hide from the world. More "effenheimers" that I like for middle grade readers, and once scene between Jackson and Greer that was delicately done, circumspect, and probably not instructional to younger readers but which about melted my socks off. Also, I think I learned some things about personal hygiene I didn't know.
What I really think: Do we need books about this for middle school readers? Yes. Is this the book they need? I am really debating because I loved Greer and Jackson so much.
Ms. Yingling

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