Friday, February 19, 2021

Project Startup (Eat Bugs #1)

Alexander, Heather and Flores, Vanessa (Illustrations) 
with Laura D'Asaro and Rose Wang.
Project Startup (Eat Bugs #1)
February 16th 2021 by Penguin Workshop 

Hallie and Jaye are in the same 6th grade class that is working on entrepreneurial projects, and are assigned to work together. This is fine with Hallie, who is the kind of exuberant student who is oblivious to what her classmates think about her most of the time. After a class field trip where she took the dare to eat a bug, she is very excited about looking into the possibilities of creating a business to sell insect-based food products. Jaye, however, thinks that Hallie is weird, and is vehemently opposed to doing her weird bug project. Instead, she wants to create a Facebook-like app for Brookdale Middle School that will connect disparate students and foster camaraderie. She doesn't have any coding skills, but pushes the idea on Hallie until her best friend and neighbor, Spencer, presents her idea as his own in class! Stuck without an idea to present, Hallie jumps in with her bug idea, and Jaye has no choice but to agree. Hallie comes to Jaye's house to try a prototype, and Jaye's grandmother gets very excited about the project, having grown up in poverty in China and having eaten a variety of insect dishes. The girls follow the business protocols that they are learning in class as they try to find a focus for their business. They obtain crickets, freeze them, crush them into powder, and create chips with this high protein ingredient. They test them on their classmates, although their attempts to sell to the wider population fall flat. Things are shaping up when Jaye and Hallie have a falling out after a misunderstanding. Will they be able to repair their new friendship and win the class competition with their Chirp Chips business?
Strengths: This was a great mix of business skills and 6th grade friend drama. We all know (or possibly were) a Hallie; any of your students who are wearing cat ear headbands right now would be her friend. Jaye was born in China, and Wang's portrayal of her difficulties with her mother and her classmates are sensitively done. She represents so many girls who don't want to cause a stir and are willing to be somewhat unhappy if they can retain friends who are "popular". The arc of her friendship with Spencer is also realistic. I really appreciated the roles that the parents and grandmother played in this book: driving children to practice, helping with homework, overseeing work to be done. I would love to see more of this in middle grade literature. The illustrations will make this a must have book for elementary school, and I can see this being really popular with my 6th graders. 
Weaknesses: I almost wish that the character were 8th graders, and the cover was a little older looking, because it was a great story my 8th graders would enjoy, but this looks a bit young for them to willingly pick up. 
What I really think: While Boy Bites Bug (which is a fantastic wrestling book) doesn't circulate as much as I would like, I like the idea of promoting both entrepreneurial skills and entomophagy. Suspect that this is paper over boards (Penguin Workshop's default format), but I wish it were in a jacketed hardcover to hold up to library use. 

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