Sunday, August 09, 2020

MMGM--The Big Break and Race Through the Skies

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

First day back in the building, although our students are all learning remotely for at least the first nine weeks. Have two training sessions on iReady, which is replacing STAR reader for reasons that were not explained, then need to make sure Chromebooks are in the Destiny system to be circulated next week. Also need to put together an introduction to the library video and start contacting students about having books for them to pick up next week. I'm glad to be back, but not feeling the normal unfettered Joy.

Tatulli, Mark. The Big Break
March 31st 2020 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Copy very graciously provided by the author

Andrew and Russ are fond of making movies, and are obsessed with the Jersey Devil, a legendary creature said to roam very close to their own homes. They've done their research, interviewing locals and consulting the long suffering town librarian, Miss Robbins. There is a local competition that they hope to enter their film in, but Russ is dragging his feet. He's recently started dating Tara, and Andrew feels like this is a betrayal. Russ doesn't keep up with his end of the work, no longer walks to school with their group of friends, and even has the audacity to bring Tara along when he and Andrew are supposedly to be hanging out together. The two have a parting of the ways, and Andrew starts hanging out more with Dante, a Lucha Libre fan, Ray, and Lexa (whose snarky observations made her my favorite character). It's not the same, but both boys are steadfast in their avoidance of each other. When there are new sightings of the Jersey Devil, a local expert surprises Andrew with a planned observation trip... and Russ is there as well. Will the boys be able to make amends, make their film, and make it through middle school?
Strengths: If your middle school library has a solid graphic novel collection of Telgemeier, Jamieson, Craft, and Winnick but does NOT have Tatulli's Short and Skinny, it's just incomplete. You also need to invest in at least two copies of The Big Break. Why? It not only includes geekcentric activities like film making and a D&D like game, but it addresses the single most important middle school event: losing a friend. Even if all students don't necessarily lose a friend in middle school, it's certainly a time of great personal upheaval that leads to a lot of realignment of interests that affect friend dynamics. This is portrayed frequently in books with girls as the protagonists, but rarely shows how this affects boys. (Darcy Miller's Roll is a notable exception). Even more brilliantly, Russ and Andrew's struggles are set against a humorous and supernatural background that will draw in all sorts of readers. Teachers especially should pick this one up; it's perfect to hand to students you know are having trouble with friends, but doesn't scream "This is bibliotherapy!" 
Weaknesses: It strained credulity a tiny bit that the children would have been taken on a camping trip by the adult who chaperoned, but it helped that Andrew's mother was reluctant to send him, AND made him wear a ridiculous snow suit! It was also a great adventure, so I'm willing to suspend disbelief.
What I really think: Definitely hoping for more graphic novels from Mr. Tatulli. Maybe something sports related from the Geek American perspective?

Sandler, Martin W. Race Through the Skies: The Week the World Learned to Fly 
July 28th 2020 by Bloomsbury Publishing
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Ohio natives Orville and Wilbur Wright worked tirelessly on their planes, and made several brief flights in 1903, but it took more time for flight to be perfected and brought before audiences. After Wilbur set up a short in France and set to work on improving his planes and earning money for patents, he caught the attention of organizers who decided to have a week long air festival in Rheims in 1908. There were competitions that drew the participation of the best aviators flying at the time, and drew attention to this new form of travel. Sandler describes, day by day, the events of the show and the men (and a few women) who were involved in the spectacle.

The lay out of this book was extremely attractive, and filled with lots of period photographs showing all aspect of the proceedings. The vintage inspired page decorations, fonts, and layouts complemented the photographs beautifully, and gave this an air of a period souvenir book that I very much enjoyed. The inclusion of sidebars describing people, current events, or technology mentioned in the narrative was very helpful as well, and introduces a lot of unusual and unknown history, such as the development of the wristwatch, that begs further research!

While younger readers will thrill to the descriptions of harrowing races and tragedies and near tragedies of crashes, I found Wilbur's desire to work on his planes and finding manufacturers for them fascinating. He didn't participate in the competition because of his other work, even though there were substantial cash prizes, although another American, Glenn Curtiss, did.  I've read a bit about the Wright brothers, but had somehow missed that fact they had promised their father they would not fly together.

Also interesting were the thumbnail biographies of the lives of the participants in the air show after it ended. Just like in Sheinkin's Born to Fly, there were all too many aviators who perished pursuing the dream of flight. Part of the appeal of early aviation was the danger and uncertainty, but there were many people whose dreams ended much sooner than they should have.

Sandler is an amazing researcher who has turned his attention to a wide range of topics, from 1919: The Year that Changed America to Kennedy Through the Lens to How the Beatles Changed the World. Not only are these great books for researching, but they are all riveting reading as well.


  1. Ohioans, will certainly be interested in the Race Through the Skies. I worked a major part of my career at WPAFB. The Wright Brothers may have had their inital flight, but most of the testing and improvements to the Wright-B flyer took place over Huffman Prairie, at the end of the main runways at WPAFB. Their aircraft and techniques were perfected there. This sounds like an interesting read and belongs the USAF Musuem in Dayton.
    Althought I'm not a fan of graphic novels, this does sound like a good one to add to the library shelves. I have started my great grandson on a Cece Bell graphic chapter book, Eye or Egg.

  2. Thanks for these recommends. I have not read a Tatulli book but have seen them around. Also enjoyed the peek into your backroom collection of books.

  3. The Big Break sounds like a wonderful graphic novel—I've never actually heard of any of Tatulli's books, so clearly I need to fix that! Race Through the Skies sounds fascinating, especially since I don't know very much about the Wright brothers and the other people involved in making flight feasible. Thanks for the great post, and good luck with your return to school!

  4. I agree that we need more books about losing a friend. And boys need to read those too. The Big Break sounds really intriguing.
    The nonfiction about flight taps into that perennial interest. I know a lot of my students and my own sons prefer nonfiction, especially if it's about their interests, like flight and space.

  5. My library has a copy of The Big Break as an ebook. I will have a look at it, but find that graphic novels don't always work well like this.