Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Starfish, Amina's Song

McDonnell, Patrick. Mutts Go Green: Earth Friendly Tips and Comic Strips
March 30th 2021 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Copy provided by the publisher

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

The other two Mutts books, Summer Diaries and Winter Diaries, have done well in my library, so I'm excited about this new volume. This still reminds me of 1930s comics a bit, but the Earth-Friendly information is always something I'm trying to get to my students. This is a great, whole wheat Pop Tart way to do it. 

From the publisher:

Mutts Go Green is a special kids' collection of the popular comic strip MUTTS, featuring themes of ecology, environmental friendliness, and animal education.

This special collection of MUTTS comics for kids includes eco-friendly lessons on how to keep the environment clean and ways to help create a greener future for our furry friends and future generations. Mutts Go Green draws on Patrick McDonnell's 25-year career of writing and illustrating heartwarming comics starring Earl the dog, Mooch the cat, and a host of other adorable animal friends.

Fipps, Lisa. Starfish
March 9th 2021 by Nancy Paulsen Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss

In this novel in verse, we meet Ellie at the beginning of a new school year. Her best friend, Viv, is moving away, and without her, Ellie doesn't have an ally in her battle with mean girls Marissa and Kortnee, who use any opportunity to make fun of her in their Texas private school. Ellie faces censure for her weight at home as well from her mother and older brother Liam, and older sister Anaïs, who saddled Ellie with the nickname "Splash" after a pool incident at her fifth birthday party. The mother is particularly controlling and cruel, refusing to buy Ellie new clothes BECAUSE she has gained weight, posting diet articles on the refrigerator, and controlling everything that Ellie eats. Ellie's father, a psychiatrist, sees how hurt Ellie is, and makes an appointment with Dr. Wood, a therapist, for her. At first, Ellie doesn't want to talk. She's come up with her own ways of coping, including a list of "Fat Girl Rules" of how to act. While she has a good friend in new neighbor Catalina, whose family is warmly accepting of Ellie, school is still very tough. The school librarian is a bright spot, and gives Ellie a chance to work in the library over lunch, even pairing her with one of her tormentors, who is misunderstood himself, which is why he was lashing out, and the two make peace. There is no such peace to be made with Marissa and Kortnee, who mastermind a stunt that not only is mentally cruel, but results in physical harm. Even this doesn't dissuade Ellie's mother from taking her to doctor's appointments to discuss bariatric surgery, a procedure that caused serious complications for Ellie's aunt. Armed with the strategies Dr. Wood helps her craft, Ellie is finally able to confront her tormentors at school as well as her mother, and is able to embrace the good things about her body.
Strengths: This is absolutely on point when it comes to modern feelings about body image in young girls, and shows Ellie's struggles in a way I haven't seen very often in middle grade books. This is not a book about a girl struggling to lose weight (as books in the past would have been), but a book about a girl struggling to come to terms with her body and the people around her who constantly harass her. It is good to see the inclusion of two supportive friends, whose families are also supportive of Ellie. Her father does the right thing and gets Ellie into therapy when he can see that she is struggling with how her mother and peers are treating her. I was also glad to see that Ellie had a dog, Gigi, who was a big comfort. There is also an excellent scene with a clothing stores for teens that has attractive clothing in Ellie's size. 
Weaknesses: It seemed odd that the school didn't do more to protect Ellie (teachers at my school would not tell Ellie to go home, have a good cry, and move on) or punish students who acted against her, but the author's note said that everything in the book is partially based on experiences she has had or heard of. 
What I really think: Novels in verse aren't popular with my students for reasons I don't understand. Unlike some novels in verse, though, this does give us plenty of information about what Ellie thinks and feels. A good addition to libraries where books about friend drama, weight issues, or personal identity are popular. 

I was also the child who was not allowed to have treats and snacks because of my weight, and who was put on a diet by a doctor in the third grade. My mother commented negatively on my weight as well as her own until Parkinson's and dementia took away her ability to communicate. We all react differently to our pasts, and my personal views don't align exactly with the current ones, so I am always afraid to say anything on the topic, lest the Twitterverse give me a hard time. 

Khan, Hena. Amina's Song
March 9th 2021 by Salaam Reads 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Amina and her family get to spend some time in Pakistan visiting her uncle Thaya Jaan (who had been unwell) and his family. While there are some things that she doesn't like (no one seems to let her speak anything but English), she loves being with her cousin Zohra and feels at home. Once she is back in the US, Amina is concerned about starting 7th grade with her friends Soojin and Emily. Her social studies teacher assigns a Wax Museum project, and Amina decides to research Malala Yousafzai. While her friends are generally supportive, and Amina has a small but solid community of Muslim friends (including Rabiya), she does sometimes feel that people in her Wisconsin town. In Amina's Voice, her mosque was attacked, mean girls at school make snide comments, and while she is proud of her heritage and her religion, she sometimes feels that her mother could allow her to make different choices, like wearing a more fashionable dress to a school dance. When Amina talks to Nico about music, the two decide to work on some sound mixing together, and her friends and family seem to worry that this has romantic implications. She likes Nico, sure, but she just wants to work with him on music and spend time with someone else with a background that is different from many of her school mates (Nico is half French, half Egyptian). Her uncle told Amina that she needed to spread the word about her culture; will Amina be secure enough in her identity to do this?
Strengths: I'm always a fan of books where children go to other countries to visit grandparents! Growing up, I had a friend who would spend summers in Greece, and that seemed absolutely fascinating. It's also something some of my students experience. Amina's fondness for both the US and Pakistan is interesting to observe, and her desire to spread knowledge about her family's culture is great to see. The relationship with Nico, and the inclusion of music, was well done. There's a lot of good friend and school drama, as well as the Wax Museum project, that will speak to a wide range of middle grade readers. 
Weaknesses: This felt a tiny bit unfocused at the beginning, and it would have helped to have the plot emerge a bit earlier. Having worked with teachers who have assigned Wax Museum projects, I found it hard to believe that the teacher would have cared at all that Amina didn't follow the rubric exactly when she did MORE research on other people. I would have given her an A+!
What I really think: Amina's Voice has circulated very well, so I know I'll have readers for this sequel, but I did so love the Zayd Saleem series and wish that Ms. Khan would turn herself to a similar book for slightly older readers! While there are a growing number of books with cultural connections, a lot more of them have girls as the main characters, and it is a learning process to get boys from any culture to read books about girls! 


  1. I don't really like books in verse either but I always trusted my librarians, who always wanted to push me out of my comfort zone. The only time I remember their steering me wrong was that John Christopher series which was too SF for me but I see has gained almost a cult following in the intervening years.

    I don't remember any body image themes in books before YA from my childhood. I better recollect books where some poor girl was an outcast because she didn't wash. You wonder what the (fictional) teachers were doing in those situations. They (real ones) certainly didn't intervene when kids called me Four-Eyes!

  2. My mother brought my brother's old clothes for one of her students and brought his home to wash. He told her that he couldn't take a bath because the kitchen sink was broken, they were washing dishes in the bathtub and it was full of spaghetti.