Monday, May 24, 2021

MMGM- An Occasionally Happy Family and Taking Up Space

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Burke, Cliff. An Occasionally Happy Family
May 18th 2021 by HMH Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Theo is glad that it is summer vacation, but while he friends are either going to robotics camp or dedicating themselves to playing video games, he finds himself roped in to a family camping trip to Big Bend National Park with his dad and older sister Laura. While this is a little better than the family's usual vacation of visiting their grandmother, it's still a lot of hikes in the woods with bugs and high temperatures. Theo's dad, a high school science teacher(who "looks and acts like one"), loves nature but is still a bit too gung ho for the outing. He has also not planned all that well; luckily, Laura excels at planning and has brought better snacks, found more amusing activities, and has even upgraded their overnight stays. She's taken on the role of family organizer since their mother's death from cancer a couple of years previously. The trip goes like most family vacations, but both kids are leery when their father has a "surprise" for them. It turns out that he has been dating Lucrecia, a life coach and very earnest believer in sharing emotions and hugs. While she's not much more annoying than their father, the whole idea of their family changing once again is somewhat difficult for both Laura and Theo. Will Lucrecia's presence move the family forward?
Strengths: In the summer of 1977, my parents (both educators) packed our Chevy Impala station wagon and took off for a month out west. We saw several Laura Ingalls Wilder sites, stayed with friends in Colorado, and traveled as far as Salt Lake City. Gas was 59 cents a gallon. It's all a bit of a blur, but I remember the feeling that this book captures perfectly: I was glad to be with my family at the very same time I was completely irked with them. There were cool moments (getting my first pair of pierced earrings in Jackson Hole, Wyoming) and not so cool ones (roaches in the motel in Kalispell, Montana). Even though the scenery was different, and Theo's family had different circumstances, the emotions portrayed in this book are absolutely true to life. Theo and Laura annoy each other but are also glad to have each other around when dealing with their father. Lucrecia is trying really hard to have the kids like her, and the father is a bit goofy in her presence. There are plenty of funny scenes as well-- there's an ornithologist and his son who lead the family a bit astray, and Lucrecia's general demeanor is a bit out there. I especially enjoyed that while Theo initially wanted to make fun of her, he benefitted from some of her advice. Plus, massages! 
Weaknesses: This sucked me in right away, but slowed a bit after the initial car journey. It picked up again, but could have been a bit more smoothly plotted.
What I really think: This is a good, realistic, funny book about a family in transition. While I wished the mother was not around due to divorce rather than death, there are plenty of funny moments, and the scenes with Lucrecia hit just the right note. Definitely purchasing, and this will be a popular titles, since road trip books and humorous stories are always a hit!

Gerber, Alyson. Taking Up Space
May 18th 2021 by Scholastic Inc.
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Sarah loves basketball and hanging out with her friends Emilia and Ryan. Things get a little complicated when Emilia and Sarah both like the same boy, Benny, and he asks Sarah to work on a school project with him, preparing for a cooking competition. Sarah feels that Emilia is much better suited to him, and feels bad about hanging out with him, even though she really enjoys it. Sarah usually does well at basketball, but has felt off lately. Her body doesn't do what she wants, her clothes are tight, and she doesn't have the energy on the court she once did. Part of this is because her mother, a college literature professor, has a difficult relationship with food. She keeps plenty of candy hidden around the house, but serves the same bland protein and vegetables for dinner every night, and limits Sarah's food with a lot of rules, commenting negatively when Sarah asks for something more or different. After a health class discussion about nutritious food, Sarah starts to think that maybe her mother is right-- things would go better on the court if she ate the right things. She starts to limit herself, and for a while, she does feel better. When she practices cooking with Benny, however, she sees how good food can also be tasty, and learns that Benny's sister is in treatment for anorexia. When she feels faint while playing basketball, her mother still doesn't get the hint, but with her friends' and coach's help, she is connected to a counselor at school who helps her understand that her mother's relationship with food isn't healthy, and the whole family gets the help they need to deal with Sarah's orthorexia. 
Strengths: This has so many things going for it-- friend drama, light romance, food issues, and basketball! While it seems like a lot, all of the elements come together well. Sarah's feelings of discomfort are something that so many middle school girls feel, and I know that when I coached cross country, there were a lot of girls who had difficulty going from 7th to 8th grade because they hit puberty and their bodies changed. Sarah's parents are busy but invested in her well being, even if her mother's approach is faulty. The response by the school and the coach are absolutely spot on. Gerber is very good about showing the nitty gritty of medical conditions with frankness and veracity, and her writing is engaging.
Weaknesses: This was hard for me to read on a personal level. Everyone has issues with food, and this hit a bit too close to home for me. 
What I really think: Definitely purchasing. Not only is the eating disorder information valuable, but I am always looking for books about girls playing sports! The basketball details are excellent! 

Andrus, Aubrea. Life Hacks: Genius Ways to Simplify Your World April 20th 2021 by National Geographic Kids 
Copy provided by the publisher

Okay. Have to start with my number one Life Hack: Plug your Chrome book in before you go to bed, and put your back pack and shoes right by it so you don't forget to bring it to school. I have said that approximately five million times during the pandemic!

We all enjoy things that make our lives easier. This collection is filled with all sorts of ideas, from ways to fall asleep more quickly to organizational hacks like putting a pop top tab on a hanger and attaching another hanger to double your closet space. There are study tips, kitchen tricks, and interesting things I've never heard of, such as starting a fire with potato chips! Combined with these helpful ideas are short biographies of hackers and a lot of information about kids vs. plastic. I really appreciated that part, since many of the hacks involve reusing discarded plastic products. 

Another fun book for car trips or rainy days, Life Hacks will amuse and inform young readers who don't know they can eat bananas from the "wrong" end or cut cakes with dental floss! There are lots of bright, colorful photographs to illustrate the hacks, and a full index at the back, as well as a roundup of all of the hacks listed. The only thing missing is instructions for how to fold a fitted sheet!


  1. An Occasionally Happy Family sounds like a great book—the vacation sounds like an entertaining setting and a good backdrop for some of the other themes. Also, I love your road-trip story, although roaches in a motel room would utterly terrify me! I've also heard praise for Taking Up Space, and it sounds great, although I'm sorry it was a difficult read. Life Hacks sounds great as well! Thanks so much for the great reviews!

  2. These books are great picks. I will have to check some of them out!

    My post:

  3. Life Hacks sounds really interesting. Your hack made me laugh. Similarly, I have told many students that as soon as they are done reading their at-home book they should put it right into their backpack. Students still forget their books!

  4. You hit a triple with these three choices. Such great reading for the summer and beyond. I will be nagging the librarian to obtain these titles. Thanks for featuring on MMGM.

  5. Wow. Now I have three more books on my TBR list. An Occasionally Happy Family had me at the title. It looks really good. Taking Up Space sounds like an important book. I have food issues, and so does most of my family. Definitely want to read that one. I love your life hack. If only I could get my granddaughter to do that! I will check it out for more. Thanks for all these reviews.

  6. Thanks for sharing these book. I've added Taking Up Space to my list and might prod my library into getting it. I have gained a few pounds and am trying to adjust to the new me. If I'm honest, it's a lifetime goal to accept whatever weight I am at and just eat healthy. The homemade cookies my husband makes don't help. An Occasionally Happy Family was already on my list, but thanks to your review here, I checked my library to see it is finally on order.

  7. Taking Up Space is in my pile. I haven't heard a lot about it, but I feel like the pandemic has made reading a bit different for everyone. I'll move it up!

  8. I have been thinking of getting Taking Up Space for a while and your review made that seem like a very good idea. An Occasionally Happy Family is one I might try to get next year. Thanks for the reviews, always worth the time!