Monday, September 14, 2020

MMGM- My Life in the Fish Tank, Don't Stand So Close to Me

Dee, Barbara. My Life in the Fish Tank
September 15th 2020 by Aladdin
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Zinny's family includes college aged brother, Gabriel, high school sister, Scarlett, and elementary brother Aiden. The siblings are wont to be loud and rambunctious, and alternate between having fun together and squabbling. When Gabriel is in a car accident, Zinny's world is upended. Because of the accident, and also because he was acting after it, Gabriel is in a residential care facility, getting help managing his recently diagnosed bipolar disorder. While her mother takes a leave of absences from her job teaching high school to coordinate Gabriel's care, she also tells the children not to tell anyone about Gabriel's problems. Zinny is fond of her brother and is definitely worried about him, but when her friends Maisie and Kailani ask her what's going on, she doesn't want to say anything. She does get invited to a "lunch bunch" run by a guidance counselor. She doesn't feel like she needs to be there, but when Maisie and Kailani stop talking to her, it's one of the few choices she has during lunch. The other is to help her science teacher, Ms. Molina, set up the room for the crayfish the class will be studying. Ms. Molina knows something is going on with Zinny but lets her help without pressing her about other issues, saying only that she can spend lunch in the science room as long as she continues to go to lunch bunch. It helps Zinny a bit to know that other students have issues with which they are struggling, and it is also helpful to have some new friends. Things are not great at home; her father stays at work as long as he can, and her mother has stopped buying groceries and cooking dinner. Zinny is helping Aiden out with his homework, including a how-to demonstration that he is struggling with, and she starts trying to cook dinners as well. The family occasionally visit Gabriel at his facility, but Scarlett doesn't want to go, even though she is getting counseling under the condition that her mother attend some as well. Ms. Molina helps Zinny apply for a marine biology summer camp, which she is very excited about. There's lots going on in Zinny's emotional life, and she has to find a way to understand her friendships and family dynamics in order to move forward with her life.
Strengths: Dee has a fine tuned ear for stories about topics of current interest, and this is a nuanced portrait of a family in crisis, but also a fast-paced story about navigating the treacherous waters of middle school friendship. The characters were especially well developed and added a lot to the story. I especially liked Ms. Molina, who was very supportive of Zinny. Other than insisting that Zinny attend the lunch bunch, she didn't ask about Zinny's problems all the time, just gave her some needed distraction (herbs, biology camp, helping out with the crayfish) and kept an eye on her. The parents are also portrayed in a more helpful way; they struggle and have their own challenges, but do make progress and don't ignore the other three children while worrying about Gabriel. It was good that Kailani and Maisie were able to work through some of the issues with their friendship. With this great cover, I can see this being a popular book.
Weaknesses: It seemed odd that the mother would take an extended leave of absence from a school in Zinny's district yet still try to keep Gabriel's condition a secret. I believe that people should be able to control their own narratives; with Scarlett telling all of her friends, the mother should have known that she would have to tell people something. There are ways to let people know that your family is having difficulties without going into details that aren't their business. I understand that Dee is trying to destigmatize mental illness, but people should be allowed the option of keeping their lives private if they want to.
What I really think: The friend drama in this is what will appeal to my readers, so I will definitely purchase this, especially since this author is popular in my school.

Walters, Eric. Don't Stand so Close to Me
September 22nd 2020 by Orca Book Publishers
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Quinn and her friends at middle school are surprised but delighted when there is an assembly to announce that spring break 2020 will start a day early and will last three weeks, but they are also a little scared about the Covid-19 pandemic. Quinn's father is a doctor at the local hospital, and to keep Quinn and her mother safer, he lives in the basement. Her mother starts working from home. Quinn's friend Reese is disappointed that she can no longer visit her grandmother, who lives in a retirement facility that is closed to visitors to contain the spread of the disease. Her neighbor and friend Isaac sometimes visits... they sit in their respective driveways in lawn chairs. Isaac's dad is a police officer who has to try to enforce social distancing guidelines. The days in isolation pass slowly, with Zoom classes and assignments pertaining to the virus, but there is a little light in the middle of the tunnel when students are allowed to put on a socially distanced school dance outside,and everyone abides by the rules.
Strengths: This reminded me a little of Polak's Orca title, The Leggings Revolt, in that it is an excellent purchase for historical reasons. The details of the school closing down, the changes in homelife, shopping, visiting relatives-- all good and a little too close to home at this point. In five years, middle school students will have only a vague memory of what was like, so this will be great to hand them.
Weaknesses: I would have liked more leading up to the school closing; we had a weird and fraught week with a very frenetic last day of school. My other vivid memory is going to the grocery store after work on March 13 and getting the very last gallon of milk. I wish Quinn had gone to the store with her mom or dad!
What I really think: Definitely purchasing for historical reasons. Yes, some day we won't have to social distance, although life will never be exactly the same again. But then, it never is.

Tarnowska, Wafa'.  
Amazing Women of the Middle East : 25 Stories from Ancient Times to Present Day
Hoda Hadadi , Sahar Haghgoo, Christelle Halal , and Esteli Meza Margarida Esteves (Illustrators) 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss

I love these biographical compilations, although every time I see one, I want to buy an extra to cut apart for bulletin boards. (But never actually do it!) This one is especially nice because I have never heard of most of the 25 women covered. The ones from ancient times, like Zenobia, were the only ones I knew. The illustrations and page colors are attractive, the women listed in chronological order, which I very much appreciated, and the information was intriguing and just long enough. When students are assigned biography projects, its nice to have this kind of book around to give them a starting point, and there are lots of intriguing choices. I always wish that the modern women would have a photograph included, but that's a personal preference. Students will not hesitate to just look things up online. Definitely purchasing. 
Ms. Yingling


  1. I agree that the middle school friend drama will attract readers to this one. I enjoyed this story and also recommended it on MMGM today. Great minds thin alike!

  2. These all sound good. Life in the Fish Tank is a story I would like to read, and I'm sure your students will as well. It sounds like a great story. Thanks for the post.

  3. I read and enjoyed Don't Stand so Close to Me earlier this year. I think students will find it interesting to compare their experiences with the characters here. I've lost track of how many people have highlighted My Life in the Fish Tank today. It sounds like I really need to track a copy down.

  4. These books sound great! My Life in the Fish Tank sounds particularly good—I was just reading about it on Greg Pattridge's blog! I appreciate your point about how people should be able to keep their own lives private—it isn't fair to expect everyone to become some kind of crusading anti-stigma warrior for every cause. Thanks for the great post!