Monday, October 19, 2020

MMGM- Flying Over Water and All Thirteen

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Hitchcock, Shannon and Senzai, N.H. Flying Over Water
October 20th 2020 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss

When Jordyn's mother offers to help Noura Alwan's family settle in Tampa, Florida, Jordyn hopes that it will improve her mother's mood. Since her mother had a miscarriage, the whole family has been out of sorts. Jordyn is finding it hard to go back to competitive swimming, and her mother is barely getting dressed. Noura's family has certainly had it tougher. Their home in Aleppo, Syria, as well as the hotel her father ran, were destroyed in bombings; Noura lost her best friend, who drowned while trying to get to Greece, and the family was not selected to settle in Germany near family. Still, they know there is no going back to Aleppo, so they are making the best of it. The father gets a job as a bell hop, Noura and her twin brother Ammar settle in to school, and the mother learns to navigate their new world with toddler Ismail. The Alwans came to the US in 2017, right when a travel ban to restrict Muslims was attempted, so they know there are people in the US who aren't keen to have them. Their social studies teacher wants his students to understand current events, and assigns a project dealing with immigration through history. There are students in the class, like Nick, who make snide comments and do underhanded things to others, but generally the class is culturally diverse and works well together. Jordyn, who is helping the Alwans navigate school, offers to work on the project with them, and the three end up incorporating a model of Aleppo that Ammar has made with information about their personal immigration story. In order to allow his sister to use his model, Ammar has a challenge for her-- she has to let Jordyn teach her how to swim. Since hearing about her friend's drowning, Noura has been afraid of the water, but she has worked with a psychologist and wants to try to work through her problems. The two, with the help from Jordyn's swimming coach, make progress with lessons, and Jordyn starts seeing a doctor to help her deal with the miscarriage and some panic attacks that she has had. Because Ammar and Noura want to pray at school, the administration makes a room available, and many students help them make the space welcoming and inclusive for students of all faiths who need time to reflect. When several racially motivated instances occur in the community, Jordyn and Noura both feel the need to speak up.
Strengths: There is so much upheaval in the world right now, and we hear so much about children being upset. I think it is very helpful to have books that model positive behaviors, but we don't see as many of them because positive behavior is less interesting than mean behavior. (Just look at what trends on Twitter!) This book never downplays the seriousness of the situations that the characters face, but they all get help from supportive adults, have positive attitudes, and demonstrate ways to deal with their problems. The characters are all diverse, well-developed, and interesting, and the story moves along at a good pace. It's especially nice to see books from two perspectives written by two authors; Weeks and Varadarajan's Save Me a Seat and Farqui and Shovan's A Place at the Table are two other excellent books written this way. (I would love to see sports authors collaborate on a book with boys from two different cultures.)
Weaknesses: The one thing that felt off about this was the mother's depression affecting her ability to care for Jordyn; this is one trope I never, ever enjoy, and it seemed particularly out of character for this book, which was generally filled with so many positive attitudes and coping strategies.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing and can't wait to recommend to students. This would be an excellent book for a class read aloud or a lit circle study, and should definitely be accompanied by Senzai's informative and interesting Escape from Aleppo in order to help middle grade readers understand how difficult a time Syrian refugees (as well as other refugees) have with the immigration process. I am hoping that this will be available in paperback and widely available at book fairs!

Soontornvat, Christina. All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys' Soccer Team
October 13th 2020 by Candlewick Press (MA)
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In June of 2018, a young soccer coach, Ek, took his Wild Boars team on an after practice outing to the Tham Luang cave. The boys had to be back for a birthday party for one of the members, but when they went to leave the cave that evening, they found that they were trapped by rising water. They had no way to contact anyone, no extra food or water, and only their soccer outfits for protection against the water and the chilly cave. When the boys did not return home, their bikes were found outside the cave, and an amazing multinational rescue effort was begun. While signs were posted warning about flooding in the cave, it was not yet the season for heavy rains, although recent precipitation had been heavier than normal. The rainy season was, however, on the way. Because of the levels of the water, the intricacies of the cave structure, and the fact that the rescuers did not know exactly where the group was, a host of agencies were involved in formulating a rescue strategy. There were members of the Royal Thai army, US military troops, a Sirikorn rescue specialists, a team of experienced divers from the UK, and even a renowned Buddhist monk! Equipment also came from all over the world, including a rescue capsule from Elon Musk and specialized masks for the boys. Local workers tried every available tactic to drain water from the cave, including getting pumps from nearby farmers and trying to drain the water with bamboo pipes. Eventually, a daring plan formed that involved sedating the boys and having a team of divers retrieve them, which was thankfully successful.

Soontornvat, who happened to be in Thailand while this event was unfolding, does a great job at alternating personal information about the members of the team and the rescue crew with scientific information about the structure of caves and the methods of extraction. Plentiful photographs give a great feel for what the area is like.  The follow up stories about what happened to the Wild Boars after the rescue is interesting as well, and Soontornvat's research and writing process was fascinating. I'm not sure how much interest there is in this particular event, but readers who like action and adventure nonfiction like Oldson's Into the Clouds or Tougias's Into the Blizzard: Heroism at Sea During the Great Blizzard of 1978 will enjoy this ripped-from-the-headlines tale. I'm half tempted to read Marc Aronson's Rising Water; he's a great writer, although I completely understand the thoughts behind having an #ownvoices writer tell the story.


  1. Flying Over Water sounds like a must read. It was on my radar, but I had forgotten about it so I just put it on hold at the library. All Thirteen was fascinating!

  2. Nice post! Definitely putting "Flying Over Water" on my TBR list.

  3. Two great books! Escape from Aleppo was ib my radar, but after reading your comments here and seeing that you gave it five stars on GR's I've added it to my #MustRead list for next year.

  4. Thanks for featuring both of these titles on MMGM. I have forwarded the link to your post to my favorite librarian in hopes she will order them for the school. Great week of reviews by the way!

  5. I have to read All Thirteen. I was fascinated by that story and their miraculous rescue when it happened.
    And Flying Over Water sounds really intriguing, especially the dual POV of two different cultures.

  6. Flying Over Water sounds excellent! It definitely reminds me of Save Me a Seat, which I read a while back; I like seeing all these two-author books that can juxtapose two different kinds of viewpoints and explore their relationship. All Thirteen sounds great as well! I had no idea they sedated the kids to get them out—that's horrifying, but I'm glad it worked! Thank you for the excellent post!

  7. These both sounds really good, but I think Flying Over Water is of more interest to me. Thanks for telling me about these.

  8. I just added Flying Over Water to my list, today. So happy to learn more about it and am looking forward to digging in, myself. Thanks for the shares, Karen!

  9. Both of these are in my pile! I've been wondering about Flying Over Water, hadn't heard much. Soon... hopefully will get to it soon!