Saturday, September 26, 2020

The Exceptional Maggie Chowder

Lute, Renee Beauregard and Valentine, Luna  (Illustrations).
The Exceptional Maggie Chowder 
October 1st 2020 by Albert Whitman & Company
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Maggie has an uneventful life until her father loses his job. The family decides to downsize to an apartment near the grocery store where her mother has been hired as a manager, and her father starts to investigate a new career as an actor while also caring for Maggie's four year old brother, Aaron, who is on the Autism Spectrum. This is a lot of change for one summer, especially since her best friend LaTanya is also experiencing change, but in a different way. LaTanya's father has been hired as a coach for the Seattle Seahawks football team, so her family buys a bigger house which she finds lonely, since her parents are always working. Maggie is very interested in a comic series, The Amazing Eagirl, which has inspired her to become a forest ranger. When her Grandmother Barrel comes to visit for a month, Maggie thinks that life has gotten even worse. Her grandmother is very judgmental, disagreeing with things Maggie's parents allow, like coffee drinking and comic book reading. She is surprised when her grandmother not only offers to take her to comic con to meet the author of Eagirl, but also makes a costume for Maggie and has Maggie make a costume for her of Eagirl's sidekick, Possum Sauce. Over the summer, her father's acting career takes off with a web series of Lyle, Lyle Crocodile (he's the crocodile!), Aaron starts therapy to help him develop coping strategies, and Maggie realizes that there are good and bad things about her new situation, but the good seem to be winning.
Strengths: This was fun to read, and had a good balance of small problems and ordinary life. It's rare to see an interest in comics portrayed in middle grade lit, especially with girl characters, so that was lots of fun. There are pages of Eagirl comics at the end of every chapter. Aaron's behaviors are realistically portrayed, and Maggie tries hard to help him out, even though she is occasionally annoyed with him. I liked that the parents were really involved, and even the grandmother ends up being a positive character. I think that we need a lot more books about children in straightened financial situations, since that is going to be a reality for many students.
Weaknesses: Maggie seems a bit young, but that might be because there are so many interactions with her family portrayed. After the stay-at-home orders, even older readers might identify with spending a lot of time with family!
What I really think: I will probably purchase this; I enjoyed it so much, and it will work for the 7th grade unit on relationships and challenges. It might be a challenge to get 8th graders to pick it up. This would be an excellent choice for elementary schools as well.

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