Monday, February 22, 2021

MMGM- Life in the Balance and Kids vs. Plastic

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Petro-Roy, Jen. Life in the Balance.
February 16th 2021 by Feiwel & Friends 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Veronica is going through a really hard time. Her mother, a harried lawyer, is an alcoholic whose ability to function is rapidly decreasing. When she gets into trouble at work for being drunk and has to spend two months in rehab, Veronica is worried about missing her, and also about how her absence will impact her ability to play soft ball and take part in other activities, especially since her mother was also a really good soft ball player, and they practiced together a lot. Veronica's dad works from home, but is oddly distant and secretive about when he has meetings, often leaving Veronica to come home to an empty house and fix herself peanut butter sandwiches for dinner. She really wants to tell her best friend Claudia what is going on, but Claudia's parents have just told her that they are separating, and she doesn't want to add to her friend's burden of grief. Instead, she confides in Libby, whose mother has also struggled with alcoholism and who is involved in a therapy group to which she invites Veronica. There's little contact with the mother, and Veronica's dad is so worried about money that he takes a job at a hardware store. This leaves Veronica alone more, and she realizes that she might not be able to be on the travel softball team even if she earns a place on it. She and Libby come up with a plan to try to win a talent show and get money that way, and when Claudia finds out about Veronica's mother, she is hurt that Veronica did not confide in her. Will Veronica be able to find a good balance in her life and deal with all of the issues affecting her and her family? 
Strengths: My first thought on this was "Why don't I have more books in my library about alcoholic parents? Why haven't I read more recently?" It seems like there were a lot more titles dealing with this issue in the 1970s and 80s, and there are certainly a growing number of books about parents struggling with opioid addiction. Aside from Friend's Lush (2006), I can't think of any other titles, so it was good to see the topic of alcoholic parents depicted. Including Veronica's interest in softball was a great choice, and will widen the appeal of the book. Friend drama is an ever present part of the middle school experience, and Veronica's struggles with balancing her friendships with Claudia and Libby are realistically drawn. I also appreciated the positive depiction of teachers and librarians. 
Weaknesses: I wish we had started the story a few months earlier, and seen the decline in the mother's behavior instead of starting at her referral to rehab. Seeing a certain type of dysfunctional parents in action is oddly appealing to my students. I do wish that Veronica had gotten therapy or been an active part of Libby's discussion group. Veronica's family had the financial wherewithal to make sure she got professional help, and it seemed odd that her father wouldn't have been more concerned about her well being.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and I think that students will enjoy this. A better balance for my own tastes would have been to see more of Veronica's activities and less of her worries; while it is realistic for her to be worried, it's also good to see a discussion of positive coping mechanisms. A good example of this is Gerber's Focused. Students will probably not notice this as much. 

Beer, Julie. Kids vs. Plastic: Ditch the straw and find the pollution solution to bottles, bags, and other single-use plastics 
December 1st 2020 by National Geographic Kids
Copy provided by Media Masters Publicity

When tweens and teens find out how damaging plastic can be to the environment, they are usually enthusiastic about scrutinizing their habits and developing a "reduce, reuse, recycle" philosophy for their own, their family's, and their school's consumption. I saw this in 1990, when my advisory group at Seven Hills Middle School in Cincinnati started an Ecology Club on the 20th anniversary of Earth Day. We read the Earth Works Group 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth (1990), started a paper recycling system at the school, sold reusable cloth lunch bags, and gave talks during the morning assembly. 

All too often, kids don't know where to start with their efforts. Kids vs. Plastic is a great book to use to point out the scope of plastic use in our society as well as the devastating effect that plastics can have on the environment. It is a hopeful book, however. It gives lots of tips on how plastic use can be reduced, items can be reused, and some plastics can be recycled. There are interviews with young people who started campaigns against single use plastic straws and golf balls that ended up in the ocean, and with scientists who are helping to build things out of recycled plastics or showing people how to use them in different ways. 

There are lots of good statistics, reported through visually appealing carts and graphs, that show how much plastic is thrown away, how long it lingers in the environment, and how it affects animals. There are bright red "Take Action!" graphics scattered throughout the book that show very concrete ways that kids can cut down on the amount of plastic they put into the waste stream. 

This is a topic near and dear to my heart. When I ran the Ecology Club, I managed to get my personal trash down to one cereal bag a month. Now, I compost, buy bulk foods (including peanut butter at Fresh Thyme, where before the pandemic I could bring my own jars!), and buy as much as I can at the thrift store. A book like Kids vs. Plastic is a great way to start a conversation about conservation, and to get another generation invested in caring about reducing plastic. 

I'm hoping that soon recycling will encompass more types of plastic. I was super excited when Rumpke Waste and Recycling in Columbus announced that they would be accepting cottage cheese and yogurt containers! 


  1. I have been hearing a lot about Life in the Balance. It sounds great. Thanks for your thoughts. The NatGeo books are always wonderful.

  2. Life in the Balance sounds like a great read! I do wonder why your students enjoy reading about "dysfunctional parents in action"—I would have thought kids would not enjoy that kind of thing, but I may be totally out of touch with kids' (or at least some kids') interests. Kids vs. Plastic also sounds excellent—I know I could stand to be more eco-friendly, and I'm sure others could as well. Thanks for the great post!

    1. It's a very specific type of dysfunctional parent. My own daughter was a HUGE fan of this type of book, so I sort of understand it. The children also have to react a particular way. I think of it as the Boxcar Children effect-- children have to take some positive action on their own behalf, and weirdly, the worse the parent behavior, the better they like the book. Therefore, books with abusive parents circulate well, but books with parents who are grieving and neglect the child because they can't get out of bed don't.

  3. Kids vs. Plastic looks awesome. And even adults (ahem, me) often don't know where to start. Thanks for the rec!

  4. Thanks for sharing Life in the Balance (new to me!). I agree, it would be nice to have the story start earlier with the mom's behaviors before rehab. Nevertheless, I'm glad for stories like these and I'm adding this one to my list. Have a great reading week, Karen!

  5. I agree with you. I have not seen any books with an alcoholic mother and I believe families are more secretive about the topic. (You read about alcoholic dads.) Will be interesting how the kids in your school receive this book. Have also heard a lot of buzz about this book, so I enjoyed reading your thorough review! Thank you!

  6. I wish I was still in the library so I could purchase both these books. Natasha Friends books were very popular and I can see where Life in the Balance would be too. Kids vs. Plastic looks like an important book. We don't have our garbage down to as much as you do, but we compost, garden and prepare almost all of our food from scratch which cuts the garbage to almost nothing.