Monday, January 25, 2021

MMGM- Opening the Road and The Good War

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Keila V. Dawson and Alleanna Harris (Illustrator)
Opening the Road: Victor Hugo Green and His Green Book
January 26th 2021 by Beaming Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

This picture book gives a great overview of the social conditions for Black Americans starting in 1936, and discusses the reasons why the Green Book was necessary. It follows Green's process in putting together this document while he was working as a mail carrier, and shows  how people used it when they traveled. Picture books can be a great way to introduce topics about which students aren't really aware, and this was particularly well done. The illustrations definitely add to the period flavor and make the stark realities that Black travelers faced even clearer. I didn't know that there had been a similar guide for Jewish travelers, not did I know that there are some current attempts to construct updated, online guides for the Black community, highlighting Black owned businesses. There needs to be a poster of the timeline in the back of the book; it was really visually appealing and informative. I don't buy a lot of picture books, but this is an excellent addition to a middle school library both for sparking an interest in further research, or for teachers who want to cover historical topics with class read alouds. Of course, this book makes me want to spend hours looking at the digitized collection of Green Guides posted by the New York Public Library

Strasser, Todd. The Good War
January 26th 2021 by Delacorte Press
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Caleb is glad he was able to help his school get eight  new computers with a grant so that an eSports club could be started, and the school would have access to come new technology, since the computers are more powerful and can run 3D modeling programs. The teacher who worked with him, Mrs. B., wants Caleb to invite Zach to join the group. Zach is a student who struggles a lot and is picked on by the obnoxious Crosby and Gavin, who no longer have a football team to subsume their energy, since it was disabanded due to budget cuts. Emma, who has a crush on Caleb, is also interested in the group, but she is not happy when Mackenzie and her minion Isabella show up at the meeting.  The eSports group decides to play the game The Good War, which is really popular, and divide into two groups. Caleb, Zach, Emma, and new student Nathan play the Allied side of the game, and Gavin, Crosby, Mackenzie, Isabella and Tyler are on the Axis side. Nathan is a bit leery of hanging out with his teammates, since he is trying to align himself with the popular kids, and Caleb especially is looked down upon as "Extra Credit Caleb", and a bit of a suck up. The games get going, and the Axis players start exhibiting worrisome signs. They wear t shirts with lightning bolts (a Nazi symbol), and when those are banned, wear gray with German army medals. Crosby is leading these efforts, having had conversations online with a guy in his twenties who keeps talking about white supremacy. Wanting to impress him, Crosby starts internalizing some of these ideas. While Caleb starts to become better friends with Zach and Emma, the tensions start to escalate at school. When the computers are a target of malware when the competition starts to get heated, the eSports club is in danger of being shut down. Racial tensions outside of school pose a danger to members of the club as well. Will The Good War end up being a bad idea?
Strengths: There are a lot of good, realistic moments in this. Anyone who remembers Channel One News will know that struggling schools have long depended on grants and corporate sponsorship to provide much needed technology to students. Mrs. B. is concerned for her students, and reads them well. Encouraging Caleb to approach Zach is something I can see teachers doing. The eSports club was harder for me to get my mind around, but with the popularity of this (along with the very realistic cutting of football teams) means that we will see more and more of this sort of club. I really enjoyed the fact that Emma was into the game, and her interest in Caleb, as a friend, teammate, and crush, was spot on. Like this author's The Wave (1981), this addresses important and timely topics of race relations and troublesome ideologies. 
Weaknesses: When Mrs. B. saw that Crosby's group was internalizing Nazi ideas, she should have immediately broken up and rearranged the groups. I wouldn't have allowed that particular game any longer. Of course, then there wouldn't have been much of a story!
What I really think: This had more of a YA vibe, especially regarding the pacing and character descriptions at the beginning o the book. Still, this is an interesting topic, and the video gaming is a topic for which my students are constantly asking, and which is difficult to find. I will purchase, but would have written parts of this very differently. 

On a personal level, there was some discussion about how soldiers in the Wehrmacht were not very different from the Nazis (Crosby and his friends were saying that they were just being like those ordinary soldiers, and a teacher rejects the idea that they were innocent). I had a very dear friend thirty years ago in Cincinnati who was in the Wehrmacht. He didn't want to be, but there was little choice. He was barely 20, his family home had been taken over by Nazi soldiers, and he couldn't find a way to get out of being in the army. His unit was on almost every major front of the war, but he survived. He ended up in Russia, waiting for the Allies to come so that he didn't have to fight for the Germans any more. Both he and his wife wished they had been able to do more, but honestly did not know the extent of what was being done to the Jewish people during the war. I'm sure there is a range of experiences, but just because someone wasn't able to help the Jewish people doesn't mean that they were evil. 


  1. I have "Opening the Road" on my list of books to read, so I appreciated your review very much. Saw the movie about the green book last year and enjoyed learning about something I didn't know.
    Wow, The Good War is a unique book! I'm really curious how the students begin to internalize Nazi ideas -- that gives me shivers as I think about how easily that could happen in gaming with the happenings in the US. Like you, I know German friends who didn't realize what was really happening until it was too late. In "The Boy in the Stiped Pajama's," the wives of soldiers didn't know. And, I have an opera friend who was in a concentration camp after Hitler's fall, when the German's turned on German-speaking Eastern Europeans -- little known. My friend lived in Hungry and was put in a concentration camp for two years at age 10, before she was freed. She wrote her autobiography, "Casualty of War," and is in her 80s now.

  2. Thanks for sharing your personal background that followed the review. I applaud your last statement. As for the book you have me sold. I'll be looking for a copy to read soon.

  3. Valid point that you shared. It sounds like an interesting book, but I'm not sure everyone will appreciate the topic, I can see this becoming a book people have concerns about.
    I would like to read Opening the Road, at some point. I wonder if there is a book like that that is current for the LGBTQ+ community, I know there are concerns....

  4. Both of these sounds like interesting reads. I wasn't aware of The Green Book, and The Good War sounds like it tackles a challenging topic in a realistic way. And I can see the appeal to students with the video gaming aspect. I also enjoyed your story of your friend in the Wehrmacht, a reminder that we don't always know the full story from the outside.

  5. Opening the Road sounds excellent—I know way too little about the Green Book, so I'm glad books like this one exist! The Good War sounds deeply horrifying—it's scary how the video-gaming culture kids are immersed in is filled with White supremacy and other awful stuff. I appreciate your thoughts about the Wehrmacht as well. Thanks for the great post!

  6. I'll be looking forward to reading Opening the Road: Victor Hugo Green and His Green Book. I only learned about it from a novel I read last year, Clean Getaway by Nic Stone.

  7. These both sound very interesting. I am fascinated by the whole Green Book story. I will definitely check that one out. Thanks for your personal story about your friend in the Wehrmacht. There are a lot of things we tend to judge without much information.

  8. Thanks, Karen. I'm making sure I have both books on my list. I appreciate the personal details you shared at the bottom of The Good War about the young soldier in Wehrmacht. I hope we continue to raise generations who understand how very complicated war (and patriotism) is.