Monday, September 07, 2020

MMGM--Wish Novels

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 
Unleashing Readers.

Wallace, Sandra Neill, Wallace, Rich and Palmer, Charley (illustrations)
The Teachers March!
September 8th 2020 by Calkins Creek
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

This picture book covers the 1965 March in Selma by the Reverend F.D. Reese. It definitely has more information than most picture books and would be fantastic for using in a classroom for #bookaday. Not only does it discuss the general state of civil rights during this time period, but it talks about voting difficulties, and how the teachers were encouraged to March even though it might mean they would lose their jobs. This is certainly a great time to hear about effective protests on important topics. The timeline, bibliography, and notes on writing the book, as well as notes about the fate of some key players, really round this out. The art work, especially the colors, is vaguely reminiscent of some of the picture books I had growing up, so was a good match for the topic. The Wallaces are great at picking timely topics and researching them very well. I'll definitely be purchasing this, as I imagine my teachers will be looking for books to help them start conversations about race. 

Since we are living in interesting times, I think it is VERY important to also include books like the Wish Novels in my library. Having grown up in the 1970s with Watergate, the threat of poisoned Pixie Stix at Halloween, the gas crisis, economic insecurity, the hostage crisis, and doom and gloom predictions that we were entering the next ice age after the blizzard of 1977, I know the importance of Reading as Escapism. 

When you read over 800 books a year, there's not a lot of time to deal with reality!

Goebel, Jenny. Alpaca My Bags
September 1st 2020 by Scholastic Inc.
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Amelia Amundsen's family lives in a yellow travel trailer (that they call the "Gnarly Banana!), and are constantly on the move from one adventure to another. Amelia's older brothers, Neil and David, are thrilled to be able to climb mountains, but the parents don't seem to understand that Amelia gets very scared, even after having to rescue her several times. When the family starts to run out of money, the parents decide to head to Winterland, Colorado, so they can complete a skiing adventure and also check in with family. They park their trailer in a campground and get ready to re enter the public school system. Mrs. Horton, the secretary, doesn't approve of homeschooling and suggests that Amelia would be better off in sixth grade, but the mother shows her Amelia's high test scores. Amelia's cousin, Cat, is also in the 7th grade, and she is picked to serve as a new student escort, but the two get off to a really rocky start. The one highlight of Amelia's days is an alpaca ranch run by Rachel. The alpacas, especially infant Samson, are adorable, and Amelia seems to have the knack of dealing with them. She gets offered a job there, helping deal with manure, fix fence posts, and do other odd jobs, and she really wants to work there, but she starts having problems at school. Her parents don't want her to spend time at the ranch if her class work is suffering, so Amelia claims to be using the time to run in order to prepare for the hiking expedition her brothers want to take, and is able to spend some time at the ranch. As much as Amelia's parents seem to chafe at being in one spot, the kids seem to like it. The boys find a dog they name Annie, and settle well into high school. Although there are some boys who give her a hard time, Amelia is slowly getting used to the routine of middle school, and is relieved that she doesn't have to go on adventures all the time. Still, the parents decide that two weeks is enough, and plan on moving on. Unfortunately, an out of control wild fire arises, and endangers the alpacas. Amelia is instrumental in getting them to safety, and she and her family survive, although their trailer does not. Will Amelia be able to convince her parents to stay, and to mend ties with their extended family?
Strengths: This had all of the essential elements for a really solid, popular middle grade book. Amelia is just a regular kid, but has an interesting and quirky family. Living in an RV sounds a bit difficult, but reading about it is awesome. She likes school, but has some realistic struggles. She occasionally lies to her parents in order to get what she wants, but pays the price for it. The alpacas are fascinating, and I am a HUGE fan of books where tweens are not afraid of hard work (although there is some self doubt attached to this, which is also realistic). The family dynamics, especially surrounding the dog, are good humored, and the desire and ability to have adventures is certainly unusual. Having lived for three months in a travel trailer when moving from Maryland to Ohio in third grade, I can vouch for the authenticity, although there should have been something mentioned about the vagaries of the plumbing! Can't wait to have a copy of this to hand to readers, although I won't need to, since the cover will make this sail off the shelf.
Weaknesses: There's a lot of Tolkien quoted, and while middle schoolers DO read him, it's generally a different group of people than the readers for the WISH novels. Who knows? Maybe some of them will be tempted to pick up The Hobbit after reading this. I was a fan of realistic, happy fiction, but attempted Tolkien in 7th grade because all of my friends were reading it, so it's not impossible! Also thought that Mrs. Horton wielded an unrealistic amount of power.
What I really think: I do not understand why this wasn't published in hard back. Oh, wait. I know. The parents are both alive and fairly functional. Sigh. This was such a fantastic book. It had small, realistic problems, cool interests, and a generally upbeat attitude. I could use hundreds of these titles instead of all of the slow, sad, "literary" novels that publishers keep pushing.

Nelson, Suzanne. Pumpkin Spice Up Your Life
September 1st 2020 by Scholastic Inc.
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Nadine lives in a small New England town frequented by "leaf peepers" in the fall. She plays cello, and is trying to get into the competitive Interlochen summer program. Her mother walked out years ago, but she and her dad get along fine. Her best friend, Daniel, works at the local coffee shop, the Snug Mug, making impressively complicated coffee beverages, like Nadine's favorite Pumpkin Spice Supreme. When the long time owner, Marley, sells the shop to a man from the city, Nadine does not like the way things are changing. The owner's daughter, Kiya, is pretty and popular, and Daniel falls for her immediately. Even though Kiya seems to have a crush on Graham, Daniel decides to ask her to the fall dance, and works on a hugely elaborate to ask her, proceeded by five days of surprise gifts, starting with a balloon at her locker that he asks Nadine to help him with. Nadine is not happy-- her beloved coffee shop is changing, with the new owner embracing a more purist approach to coffee instead of super sugary concoctions, and she and Daniel can no longer hang out in the break room.  She also realizes that she "like-likes"Daniel, so is crushed by his pursuit of Kiya. Will Nadine be able to put in the effort it will take to succeed with her cello dreams, and how will she handle her feelings for Daniel if he decides to date Kiya?
Strengths: For some weird reason, the television show Friends is popular with my students, so they will LOVE the Snug Mug and Nadine hanging out there drinking sugary coffee prepared by a cute boy. The fact that Nadine is very interested in playing cello appealed to me-- I spent a LOT of time in high school hanging out with string players! There's plenty of friend and relationship drama, but it was all very positively handled. Angsty, but positive, which is great to see. There are lots of good, age appropriate romantic details that tween readers will love. The Wish novels are popular with my girls, but also a huge hit during February when we encourage the boys to read romance novels.
Weaknesses: I have a hard time believing tweens drink this much coffee or really hang out at coffee shops, but I can definitely appreciate the wish fulfillment aspect of this!
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, since any version of these books involving coffee seem to circulate inordinately well in my library. 


  1. My 10 year old loves Wish books, especially Suzanne Nelson's. We had the Pumpkin Spice book on preorder. I think that Alpaca My Bags will be up her alley, too. Thanks for highlighting that one!

  2. I'm especially interested in Alpaca my Bags! I love books about quirky families, and I'm glad there are more books that are featuring homeschoolers, especially as it's becoming more common. I agree about the literary novels. I don't see them appealing to kids, and would love to see more MG along these lines.

  3. Three very compelling shares today. I loved the Teacher's March PB and will be checking it out. I was 13-14 when it happened and don't remember anything about it. Love the titles on Alpaca My Bags and Pumpkin Spice, again both sound like great middle grade reads. I like the idea of an alpaca ranch and kids caring for animals. And, I am surprised to learn that teens like coffee. Thank you for sharing today!

  4. These all sound wonderful. The title Alpaca My Bags cracked me up. I'm definitely going to hunt that one down, but I will be looking for the others as well. Thanks for your very thoughtful reviews.

  5. I don't know about hanging out at coffee shops, but I know the private-school tweens I've seen drink far more coffee than you would expect—it's crazy! I laughed out loud at your "What I really think" for Alpaca My Bags—I wish the world of MG books didn't place such an enormous emphasis on something that very few kids actually have to deal with. Thanks for the great reviews!