Monday, October 12, 2020

MMGM- A Thousand Questions, Blood and Germs

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Faruqi, Saadia. A Thousand Questions
September 8th 2020 by Quill Tree Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Mimi and her mother like in Houston, Texas, but things have not been going well lately. Her father, a US born reporter, left long ago, and her Pakistani born mother has struggled to make ends meet by teaching and creating art. Mimi has never met her mother's parents, but is unsure about spending six weeks visiting them in Karachi. Nana and Nani are well-to-do and were greatly disappointed in their daughter's choice of husband, but glad to see their family. Sakina works with her Abba in the kitchen, where he cooks and she helps with a variety of chores. Secretly, she hopes to attend school, and has passed the entrance exams except for English. The girls are wary of each other at first; Mimi thinks that Sakina should want to be her friend, but Sakina knows that she is a servant who needs to work and not make Mimi's grandmother angry. Besides, her father's diabetes is not well managed, and he needs her help. Mimi is using a journal her mother gave her to keep track of her trip to write letters to her estranged father, whom she misses. Eventually, the girls warm to each other, and Sakina asks Mimi to help her with her English. The two are given permission to go sightseeing with the family chauffeur as well. Both girls have a lot to learn about the other's culture, and things don't always go smoothly. Mimi learns that her father is in Karachi, and is already angry with her mother for hanging out with a man she knew in college, so the girls try to locate him, finally pinpointing the newspaper employing him. As the visit nears an end, there are some issues that the girls must address, but they are able to treat each other with kindness and help each other out.
Strengths: Faruqi has taken a personal trip back to her hometown and crafted a rather brilliant novel about trying to understand other cultures... even one's own. Sometimes, this sort of examination comes off as a bit negative and whiny, but Mimi and Sakina are both very good natured and really try to understand how their actions look to someone else. There are a few instances of misunderstanding or tension, but they are very realistic, and the girls move past them. The descriptions of daily life in Karachi are well done, and like so many novels involving cultures from the Indian subcontinent, there's a lot of FOOD! I really want a bun kebab now! There's some interesting discussion of local politics, marriage traditions, and the differences between the wealthy and the poor. There's also a very interesting scene where Sakina and Mimi pray even though both are not very religious. The descriptions of Sakina's home life are something that my students really need to read. The fact that she is not able to go to school will shock many of them. I enjoyed this very much!
Weaknesses: I wish that the girls had gotten out into Karachi a little bit more and had some adventures; that's possible in a book but maybe not a great plan in real life!
What I really think: I love a good travel book that gives some insight into a culture I don't know well, and this is brilliant because it gives opinions on both Pakistani and US culture from two view points. Perfect for Narsimhan's Mission Mumbai Bajaj's Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywoodor Krishnaswami's The Grand Plan to Fix Everything. Can't wait to get this one into students' hands!

50570472. sx318 Jarrow, Gail. Blood and Germs:The Civil War Battle Against Wounds and Disease
 October 13th 2020 by Calkins Creek Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

One of the enduring conundrums of readers advisory I have is this: how do I get books about war to students without glorifying it? There are some students with an insatiable to desire to vicariously experience war, but even eleven year olds need to know that War is Not Good.

This book is perfect.

Jarrow, whose Fatal Fever: Tracking Down Typhoid Mary, Red Madness: How a Medical Mystery Changed What We Eat, Bubonic Panic: When Plague Invaded America and The Poison Eaters all show impressive writing on medical topics, narrows on what is to me the most fascinating fact about the Civil War: sickness claimed more lives than violence. Diarrhea was one of the most common killers. Nothing takes the glory away from dying for one's country more than a discussion of the number of diseases that could cause this outcome.

This is serious business. The Civil War affected so many families, and in addition to the fatalities among soldiers, there were men who came back in extremely poor health due to a huge number of causes. Jarrow used military records to try to break down the administration of health services, the statistics about various diseases, and to highlight individuals who died because of the war. She does mention that there are far more extant records of the Union forces, but that ratios are probably similar in the Confederate cases.

I found it surprising that neither army seemed to have made plans for taking care of soldiers who were ill or injured. Granted, this was during a time where doctor's credentials were not as regulated, and also when there was no formal training of nurses, but basic hygiene was not really addressed. Latrines caused widespread disease, as did lice and lack of clean water. The vast majority of the nursing seems to have been carried out by societies comprised of women volunteers. It was also interesting that some of the soldiers were more susceptible to diseases because they came from small towns or rural settings, so had no immunity built up from being in crowds.

This book is nicely organized, and well designed, with plentiful period photographs and illustrations. Famous figures, such as Clara Barton, are highlighted, but there are lesser known luminaries, like Mary Livermore, who fought for more sanitary conditions in military hospitals, as well. The end notes are very complete, there is a really informative timeline, and the glossary of terms is helpful as well.

Readers who want heroic tales of combat might be disappointed in this, but the cover will draw them in, and they will read at least half of the book before they realize that they are deep into a discussion about scurvy. Students who want to research the Civil War for a history project will find this an invaluable resource about innovations in medicine, technology, and practices that came out of this time period. This is an essential book for middle school and high schools, especially when the Civil War is part of the curriculum.


  1. I'll be getting A Thousand Questions soon, but Blood and Germs is new to me, Karen. I know a little about this history and am glad to read your review. Thanks!

  2. I love Gail Jarrow's books. Every one of them are great. A Thousand Questions sounds like a terrific story. Thanks for the heads up.

  3. I'm also all in for a good travel book. The characters in this story would be very appealing to young readers. Thanks for featuring on MMGM.

  4. A Thousand Questions can't get here fast enough. This looks so good and I've been looking forward to it. I don't think I can handle Blood & Germs, for my personal reading. If it gets gruesome, then I seriously start feeling faint. It's a silly and embarrassing thing and I wish I could stop it, but I guess that's what phobias are all about. lol (Funny that I gave birth at home three times without issue...) Still, would definitely like to see this book in our library because the realities of war often escape this age group. Thanks for sharing these titles, Karen!

  5. A Thousand Questions sounds like a beautiful novel, and Blood and Germs does sound like a great way to give war facts to kids without making it sound like some amazing thing! Thank you for the thoughtful post!

  6. I love Gail Jarrow's medical history books... and am looking forward to reading about the uncivil medical practices of the Civil War.