Monday, September 28, 2020

MMGM- Double the Danger and Zero Zucchini and Becoming Muhammad Ali

Uhrig, Betsy. Double the Danger and Zero Zucchini
September 22nd 2020 by Margaret K. McElderry Books
E ARC provided by Netgalley

When Alex Harmon's aunt Caroline asks him to read her book, Gerald Visits Grandpa, he isn't thrilled about reading a book about two frogs, but pleased that his aunt asks for input. He has a red pen to annotate the boring parts... but most of the book is boring! The big excitement is a prize winning zucchini. Alex, along with his friend Javier and his cousin Marta, take their assignment to improve the book seriously, and are soon doing a lot of test stunts to up the excitement in the book. Some of these include climbing out of a window and down a trellis, simulating flying with a harness and a leaf blower, and sneaking into a creepy house. To be fair, the Old Weintraub Place isn't that creepy, and Alex doesn't even have to break in; his mother had a key so she could check on the former occupant. However, when the kids are visiting one time, there is a cup of fresh and warm coffee left on the counter, and they wonder if there is a ghost. If there is, this ghost is well read and has some great ideas for the story, some gleaned from boxes of speculative fiction books in the basement. Even though Alex isn't a fan of books and would rather run, he puts in a lot of effort to improve the story, which soon involves the grandfather having magical powers, alternate realities, and eventually, a massive battle against goblins! Even Alex's annoying younger brother Alvin gets involved. Because he doesn't have grandparents of his own, Alex goes to the local senior center to get input from the older people there, picking up on their speech patterns, and also enjoying some chocolate chip cookies. His aunt wants to get the book done before her wife has their baby, and has gotten a lot of positive feedback about Alex's changes from her agent, but she still has some doubts about just how exciting the book should be. Alex and his friends go to a lot of trouble to work out an important plot point and sell their ending to his aunt, and get help from an unlikely source.
Strengths: Middle grade readers are often not empowered. Everyone tells them what to do, and they don't get to call the shots. Normally, novel writers try to compensate for this by killing the parents and requiring the children to save the world. This is much more realistic-- Alex is given agency to inform his aunt's writing, and she actually listens to him. I'd love to see more books about tweens who are given control over some small aspect of their world. The characters are all engaging and well drawn; Alvin is especially interesting. I thought he would be obnoxious, but he isn't. Marta and her love of stunts is fun, and I did appreciate that the kids weren't reckless with what the attempted to do. The discussion of whether or not to call 911 was brilliant, and also was crucial when something more serious occurred. I loved all of the thought that went into creating the aunt's book. I'd love to see more authors actually run their books by actual children!
Weaknesses: While this read quickly and I enjoyed it, the story rather neglected its own guidelines and there are not as many explosions as there could have been. There are enough students (safely done) to keep readers interested, though, and I did like the twist about the identity of the ghost!
What I really think: This went really quickly, was funny, and is an interesting observation about the writing process. Definitely purchasing, and the cover is brilliant. It's going to have a very visceral pull to any tween who has ever read a Dr. Seuss book! This probably should be the default font on all middle grade books! An amazing debut.
Ms. Yingling

Alexander, Kwame, Patterson, James, and Anyabwile, Dawud  (Illustrations).
Becoming Muhammad Ali: A Novel
October 5th 2020 by jimmy patterson
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Born in 1942, young Cassius Clay grew up with a supportive family in Louisville, Kentucky but had to deal with the racism and prejudice of the South during this time. This book unfolds with prose narration from the point of view of his best friend, Lucky, and then has first person commentary in Alexander's verse. There are also illustrations between chapters, which will appeal to readers who like graphic novels. In a style vaguely reminiscent of the Childhood of Famous Americans books, we learn what it was like to grow up during this time, hang out with friends, not be allowed to go to the local amusement park, and long for a flashy bicycle. The details about every day life as seen through the eyes of someone who became famous is always fascinating. This goes a bit further in time; we see Clay get his start in boxing, and have descriptions of his matches as well as the effect they had on his public persona. There is even information about what happened when Ali refused to go into the army, and lost the eligibility to box. The insights from Lucky are helpful in understanding the world at large and Ali's reactions to fame. I hadn't realized that Ali was diagnosed with Parkinson's in the early 1980s, and that it cut short his career. There is some coverage of his life after this, and (to the delight of children researching for National History Day) discussion of his legacy. There is also a nice bibliography.
Strengths: The mix of traditional prose, illustrations, and Alexander's verse makes this book move along quickly. The poetry in The Crossover made sense because of the rapping that the characters did and the bouncy quality of basketball, and in this book, if riffs off Ali's tendency to spout rhymes of his own. The illustrations are great, and reminded me just a tiny bit of Mort Drucker's work in Mad Magazine (just around the mouths and noses), which was a great touch for this time period. Lucky's insights give us some background, and the dramatizations of Ali's life will appeal to readers who like sports. This will also work for the decades project that our seventh graders do.
Weaknesses: This sanitizes Ali's career a bit, which is understandable given the demographic, and reflects how history has treated Ali. When I was growing up, my general perception was that he was kind of a jerk, but he seems to have turned his image around after his Parkinson's diagnosis.
What I really think: Will purchase this, even though I don't need another biography of Ali, or even another fictionalized account of his life. I have multiple versions of both. What I really need are books about Black historical sports figures who have NOT been covered already. Jack Johnson, Alice Coachman, John Baxter Taylor, Mamie Johnson, Larry Doby, Toni Stone, Earl Lloyd and many more who lack books! I'd even love a novel length version of Garret Morgan's life. Talk about a fascinating guy!


  1. I enjoyed your review of Double Danger. What a great plot. The aunt needs some serious help, and her nephew and nieces step in to strengthen her book. Agree with your thoughts about giving teens more responsibility. Sounds intriguing.

    I haven't read much about Ali and was not into boxing and shared your similar impressions of him. His life was dramatically altered by Parkinson's, so I might enjoy learning about his early life. Thanks for sharing both novels today. I value your comments.

  2. Double Danger sounds like fun. I like the idea of kids being empowered. The Ali book is sure to be popular with the boys. That's always a bonus. Thanks for the post.

  3. I just got a copy of Becoming Muhammad Ali, so I'm looking forward to this one. I'll have to look more into Double the Danger and Zero Zucchini, as well. Thanks for the shares, Karen!

  4. Double the Danger and Zero Zucchini sounds like such a fun story! I love your point about how the dead-parents trope in MG books is a way of giving independence to the kid protagonists—I never thought of that! Becoming Muhammad Ali sounds excellent, but I appreciate your point about how we need more books like it! Thanks for the wonderful post!

  5. What a fun title for Double the Danger and Zero Zucchini. I hated zucchini as a kid and that would have been a hook for me!

  6. Well I have had to add Double the Danger and Zero Zucchini to my list after reading your remarks here!