Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Izzy Newton and the S.M.A.R.T. Squad: Absolute Hero

Tripp, Valerie and Bowers, Geneva (illus.) Izzy Newton and the S.M.A.R.T. Squad: Absolute Hero
September 8th 2020 by Under the Stars (National Geographic)
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Izzy is nervous about starting a new school year at Atom Middle School, even though she has her good friends Charlie Darwin and Allie Einstein. Her other friend, Marie Curie, was away for the past two years, and has come back as a hyper busy, popular girl who scares Izzy a little bit. There are lockers, crowds of students, and new classes and activity like forensics (which they are sad to hear is public speaking rather than CSI-style investigation). They also soon find that the building is absolutely freezing. Since Izzy and her friends like science, they start an investigation into why the air conditioning in the school is on overdrive. They make a number of hypotheses, starting with the thermostat in the principal's office being hit by the sun and registering the building temperature inaccurately, and eventually take their investigation to the roof where the units are. Will the girls be able to survive middle school, solve the mystery, and repair their friendship with Marie?
Strengths: Friend drama is always in demand, and elementary students who are curious about what middle school is like will enjoy reading about Izzy and her friends' new classes and experiences. I loved that the girls were passionate about the scientific method and wanted to solve a problem at their new school. It's good to see them working together on a project for the common good. The occasional page decorations and illustrations are well done and convey a lot of personality. There is a decent amount of diversity in the ethnicity of the students, and Charlie has two moms. 
Weaknesses: I can't imagine any school building where students would get accidental access to the roof. There were other things that don't reflect MY school - the school library is open after school, students can get into the principal's office to check on the thermostat, and 6th graders have extracurricular activities. Are there middle schools with marching bands? This made the book seem unrealistic to me, but might reflect schools in other states. 
What I really think: This is similar to the Girls Who Code, Daring Dreamers, or StartUp Squad books or Alyssa Milano's Hope series, with the purposefully diverse group of friends, the science, business, or social activism interest. While it's great that the main character is a person of color in these books, the authors are not. I think the illustrator of Izzy is, possibly. Ten years ago, this would be fine, but publishers who want books to feature POC main characters REALLY need to be reaching out to actual POC writers at this point in time, especially since most of these books are formulaic and probably written to spec. There are no details about family culture or race relations at all; if Renee' Watson or Hena Khan had written any of these series, they would have had more interesting and diverse details. After this summer especially, publishing has to keep up with the desires of the US reading community.  
Ms. Yingling

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