Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Katarina Ballerina and So Jelly

Peck, Tiler and Harris, Kyle. Katarina Ballerina
May 5th 2020 by Aladdin
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Katarina lives with her hardworking father in the city. She loves to dance, and has been watching flat screen televisions with videos of ballerinas on her way to school. When her friend Grant encourages her to join the talent show, she hopes that if she wins, the money will be enough for her to take lessons. She constructs a costume out of a bathing suit and tissue paper, and does an enthusiastic dance. Her father decides she deserves lessons, since her mother was also a dancer. She has a rough start at the dance school because her father didn't tell her there was a uniform of black leotards and pink tights, but she makes a good friend in Sunny, who gets her up to speed. Sunny also fools around a bit too much in class, and the teacher tells Katarina that if she really wants to be good at ballet, she needs to buckle down. When there is a competition for a summer dance camp, Katarina and Sunny put together a dance involving them both. There is some drama, but Katarina gets encouragement from dancer Tiler Peck and feels confident enough (with the help of some friends) to do her dance even after Sunny is injured right before the performance.
Strengths: I really liked the format of this book-- the font was pleasant and large, and the illustrations were exceptionally nice. Katerina works hard, and appreciates the fact that her father is paying for her lessons. There are some interesting supporting characters, and lots of information about ballet. The celebrity connection (Peck is a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet) might appeal to readers as well.
Weaknesses: I was concerned that Lulu, Katerina's dog, was allowed to go with her to school and then walk unaccompanied to a corner bodega to spend the day. It seemed dangerous! And are dogs allowed on subways? (Clearly, I am not a city dweller!)
What I really think: This is too young for my readers, but would be great for elementary students who are interested in dance.

It's such a fine line-- what is going to be interesting to middle school students and what is not. Katarina involves more play (making the costume, and the attitude toward it seemed very elementary), and a different relationship with parents and teachers; The Donut Dreams books have more of a work and school focus, with more distance being put between parents and the girls at the same time that they sort of want to spend time with them. Since these books are similar in length and appearance, it's a tough call. 

Simon, Coco. So Jelly! (Donut Dreams #2)
December 10th 2019 by Simon Spotlight 
Library copy

Kelsey is glad that her family can be there for her cousin Lindsay, who lost her mother, but she is jealous as well. Since her mother is an accountant for the family restaurant and her father teaches wood shop at the local high school, she's used to spending a lot of time with her extended family. Her adopted sister Molly plays more sports than she does, and older sister Jessica is starting to obsess about college. Kelsey, who loves their small town, doesn't want anything to change, but of course it does. She starts to work more at the donut shop under the supervision of her grandfather, and this cuts down on the socializing that she can do with her friends. She's worries about Jessica leaving, and irritated when her mother starts including Lindsay in all of the special family get togethers. After the Fall Fest requires a lot of work from everyone, Kelsey is glad to accompany her mother to the big city for a presentation, and the time alone together for the two of them helps her put things into perspective. 
Strengths: While authors love to pile on the tragedies in middle grade lit (parents die, siblings die, towns are destroyed by hurricanes, and the Forces of Evil that want to take over the world can only be thwarted by tweens), I think it is the small set backs that hit more students. Worries about finances, dealing with divorced parents, balancing school and social activities, and becoming independent from parents can weigh so heavily on tweens minds, and I think that we forget this as adults. It's good to see books that address these difficulties, because a steady diet of "dad died and now mom's boyfriend abuses me" books can make young readers think that their own problems are too small to matter. These short, fast-paced books where girls have interests, ambitions, and small problems that they must learn to deal with constructively are great for readers who might struggle a bit with comprehension or who aren't quite as mature, or who have DAYS where they just aren't able to cope with Bigger Issues. Plus, donuts!
Weaknesses: There were a lot of friends and relative mentioned early on, and I had some trouble keeping them straight. This is a peril of making each book from a different character's perspective. 
What I really think: I adore Coco Simon's series, but wish they would be a bit shorter. The Cupcake Diaries series is 32 books long. I just can't buy that many. For these shorter books, ten is about all I can handle. And then someone always loses book five of the prebind when it's out of print!

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting! I will definitely be checking those books out.

    I also like what you said about there being value in finding books about "smaller problems." It's certainly something to think about!