Monday, February 01, 2021

MMGM- The Boy Who Failed Show and Tell, Girls Just Want to Have Pugs

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Sonnenblick, Jordan. The Boy Who Failed Show and Tell
February 2nd 2021 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this memoir of his 4th grade year, author Jordan Sonnenblick weaves a compelling, novel-like story of a kid who is just trying to survive. It's tough enough to be short (but not the shortest), to have asthma, and to struggle with sitting still in class, but to have to put up with Mrs. Fisher and her Rules for Successful and Mature Fourth Graders makes it almost impossible. Not only does Mrs. Fisher expect the students to be quiet and well-behaved, but she thinks that comic books rot one's mind and tells Jordan's mother at a conference that he will never amount to anything. There's also the nasty Britt Stone in his class, and the other students don't make things much better. The only thing that does is Jordan's pet snake, Hector, although there are some stressful moments when Hector has a litter of babies! Jordan's parents are aware of the situation and are considering placing Jordan in another school, but he's worried that things will be even worse. After a particularly heinous interaction, Jordan's parents agree there is no option but to move him, and soon Jordan is in Miss Tuff's class at P.S. 54. She seems nice, even apologizing for touching Jordan when he flinches, and the students seem friendlier as well. Not only that, but there are other Jewish students, as well as students from Asian backgrounds, which is a change from the primarily Catholic student body at his previous school. The students also are more interested in academics, and Jordan soon feels more at home. Things aren't perfect; he's worried that a lump on his father's arm is cancerous, he's still allergic to grass, which makes playing his beloved baseball tough, and he worries about his mother driving around the city. Still, he has Hector, he learns to appreciate reading other books alongside his comics, and he has a fantastic and supportive drum teacher who instills a love of music in him. As fourth grade ends, Jordan realizes "Sometimes, it's really hard to figure out when having fun is just fun, and when it is the same as being bad," and prepares to head off to summer camp again, having survived a pivotal year of elementary school. 
Strengths: If I had to pick a fictional best friend for young Jordan, it might well be Big Nate. They are both well meaning but get into trouble at school-- Nate would definitely have joined in the "let's melt one crayon a day on the radiator" plan! In his superb humorous style, Sonnenblick delves deep into the complicated emotions of a ten year old who wants to do the right thing but struggles with how exactly to accomplish that. It was great to see that there were teachers who supported him, and his parents and sister were also concerned for his best interest, even when they didn't understand his behavior. I can't think of another #MGLit book that addresses the difficulties of living with asthma, and I'm glad that details about being in a Jewish family were included. The Boy Who Failed Show and Tell is a great book to introduce younger readers to the laugh-because-otherwise-you-have-to-cry genius that is Sonnenblick's writing. 
Weaknesses: I could have used some more details about life in the 1970s; the scenes about the gas shortage and the Three Mile Island accident were great, but since this is a great choice for our Decades project, more details about daily life in "the olden days" would have been welcome. It is horrible to think that teachers like Mrs. Fisher exist, and I'm sorry on behalf of my profession that Mr. Sonnenblick had to deal with her. 
What I really think: Since more of Mr. Sonnenblick's books are in the upper middle grade range, I would have preferred to see a story about his middle school years, but this gives elementary schools a chance to show readers that it's not necessary to have everything figured out in fourth grade in order to be a successful adult!

Howard, J.J. Girls Just Want to Have Pugs
February 2nd 2021 by Scholastic Inc.
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Kat lives in an apartment in New York City with her busy mother, younger sister, and father who is often away from home for his work. She would love to have a dog, but her parents say it's just too much to handle with their busy lives. Instead, she walks the Meatball, the pug of neighbors who have small children. Kat's father is determined that she do more activities at school to build her resume for college applications, since she is in 8th grade. She'd rather hang out with her friends Taz and Lucy, but knows she will not win this fight. When she finds out that there is a business club at school, she enlists her friends to help with a dog walking business, Four Paws. She also meets a new boy in her class, Declan, who has moved into her building with his pug, Sparky. Kat thinks he is nice as well as cute, and is always glad to spend time with him and his dog, but she thinks that Lucy has a crush on him. Lucy is in the school play, and Kat decides to work behind the scenes to add another extracurricular. The dog walking business starts out well, since Taz does a helpful app and a poster to recruit customers in their building. It's a great way for the girls to earn some money, but after a while balancing the business, school work, and other commitments gets to be a bit much. When there is an issue with one of the dogs, Kat fears that the business is doomed. She gets a chance to address a meeting of residents in the building, but it is set for the same time as the school play. Will Kat be able to honor both of her commitments, spend time with her friends (especially Declan!), and maybe, some day, have a dog of her own? 
Strengths: Realistic, every day problems. I wish that more #MGLit focused on things like fathers who work away from home, mothers who are busy, little sisters who are demanding but only because they love their older sister and want attention, and the balancing act that is middle school, with activities, and home work, and friends. Add to that a super sweet "like" interest like Declan (when he finds out Kat has given her lunch to her sister, he asks his dad, who is dropping off something at school, to pick up the same kind of sandwich that Kat gave away. Awwwww!), some friend drama, and a Girl Who Does Things, and this is absolutely what my students want to read. Some of the Wish novels are written by #OwnVoices writers (Yamile Mendez Random Acts of Kittens), but there is always an effort to have diverse cultural groups represented in the secondary characters in all of these books. Taz is of Indian descent, for example. The details about living in an apartment in New York are exotic to those of us living in the midwest. Now I really, really, really want a similar series with boys who play sports as the main characters. 
Weaknesses: Published in paperback. Argh. I suppose this makes some sort of economic sense, but couldn't we have the literary books that teachers and librarians love where everyone dies in paperback and the Wish novels in hardcover?
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. Don't know how I missed Pugs in a Blanket (May 2019) or The Love Pug (December 2019) last year, but I put them on my Follett list without even reading, I like these so much! Also, check out the cover. Yes, the hat is photoshopped onto the dog, but look closely-- it's a REALLY good job! The little hairs come over the edge of the hat. Nicely done!

Howard, J.J. Pugs in a Blanket
May 14, 2019 by Scholastic Inc.
Library copy

Sam's parents run Calloway's Creations catering service, and she is a big help in doing the cooking for various events. When two pug puppies appear on her porch, she and her friend Nina think they are so cute that Sam hides them in her room. She also takes them to an event that the family is catering, and the dogs break loose and cause chaos. Sam pleads with her parents to keep the dogs, partly because her brother Ollie also likes them, but her parents don't think that Sam is responsible enough. They also want to find the owners. While they investigate, Sam names them Pepper and Jack, becomes attached, and threatens not to help out if she can't keep them. At a big wedding, Ollie goes missing, and Sam tracks him down with the help of her crush, Jai, whose father plays music at events. Sam, Jai, and Nina have posted some pictures of the pups on social media, and they have become somewhat popular. The parents feel bad that the family is so busy, and take a family vacation, including the dogs in the trip. When they get back, Jack crashes another party, and a young woman named Karen claims that the dog was delivered to Sam by mistake by Karen's boyfriend. This seems fishy to Sam. Will she loose Pepper and Jack?
Strengths: This was another fun book with realistic problems. I think every middle grade student goes through periods when they think their parents are the most unfair people on the planet. Many also yearn for dogs. Including the relationship with Jai was a good call, and there is a little tiff between the two of them as well. The social media aspect is also interesting. I've seen people post pictures of dogs on Instagram, but the only one I will follow is Pluto Living, because many of the dogs look exploited. 
Weaknesses: As the mother of a child who kept a cat in the closet for three days, I cannot condone the actions of Sam or the parents. Especially since the source of the dogs remain a mystery, I would have turned them over to the local shelter. Sam threatens a strike, irresponsibly brings them to the family business events where they cause havoc, and sulks constantly? Young readers will sympathize, but as a parent, I really couldn't. 
What I really think: Well, I wish the villain had had a different name, but young readers will enjoy the light romance with Jai, the effects of social media popularity, and Sam's adoration of the dogs. 


  1. I'm adding The Boy Who Failed Show and Tell. I'm glad to know this is a memoir as it somehow makes me more invested. When I was in my early parenting years, I recall my best friend telling me that she would only buy hardcover books for her (4) boys. At the time I was thinking something along the lines of well, well, well... how privileged. But as we added babies #3, #4, and HUGE SURPRISE IN OUR 40s #5 to our family, I quickly began adapting the "select only hardcovers" option just so they could last through years of abuse. Ugh. Thanks for the shares, Karen!

  2. Excellent review on Sonnenblick's new book. The story line and characters would be very appealing to young readers. It's also the perfect way to lead them into his other books. Thanks for featuring on Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.

  3. oh! They all look so fun! And I need to put more books on my MG-to read list.

  4. I'm kind of a Sonnenblick fan so I already had The Boy Who Failed Show and Tell on my list. I'm glad to read that it is good - I didn't know it was a memoir!

  5. These all sound pretty good. I love the title of Sonnenblink's book. In fact all the titles are pretty clever. I think Girls Just Wanna Have Pugs sounds the best. I will be looking for these. Thanks for your very thoughtful reviews.

  6. The Boy Who Failed Show and Tell sounds like an excellent memoir! I've seen literally no books that talk about asthma, which is weird, considering how many pulmonologist appointments and nebulizer treatments I had to do for my asthma as a kid. It's awful that teachers like Mrs. Fisher exist. The books by J.J. Howard sound great as well—I love your point about other books being demoted to paperbacks! Thanks for the great post!