Saturday, May 01, 2021

Cartoon Saturday-- Some great books for elementary school readers

Nisson, Sam and Johnson, Darnell (Illustrations). Power Up!
February 23rd 2021 by Etch/HMH Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this graphic novel, we see two boys who go to the same school but don't know each other connecting online as they form an unstoppable team in the game Mecha Melee, a shoot 'em up robot strategy game. Gryphon and Backslash, as they are known, spend a lot of time together, but at school, they are just Miles and Rhys. Rhys has left his former school after an unfortunate incident, and is just trying to keep his head down. Miles has a group of friends and is very gregarious, even if not everyone is thrilled to hear his play-by-plays of his gaming. When Miles' parents tell him he spends too much time gaming, he doesn't agree, but their terms are not negotiable; he needs to find another activity, or he won't get any screen time. A popular boy whom he has known for years does dirt bike racing, so he tries that. This boy is also very mean to others, and particularly picks on Rhys. When a Battle Con comes to town, Miles begs his parents to go. They relent, and soon he is competing in the Every Game Ever event, which has kids playing all manner of old and new video games. He makes it through some rounds, but eventually gets out. The final two gamers end up being a girl who is professional, and Rhys. Rhys is allowed to pick someone to help him, and Miles volunteers from the audience. Will the two work as well together in real life as they do online, and will their gaming friendship extend to school?
Strengths: Middle grade readers will love this one, with its depiction of gaming action, school drama, and disputes with parents over screen time. Really, shouldn't just about every middle grade novel involve a subplot with disputes over screen time? The illustrations are fun, the colors are bright, and there's the wish fulfillment of getting to play in a competition. It was also good to see that Miles and Rhys were able to become friends. 
Weaknesses: For the target demographics, there really aren't any. Readers who like the Cube Kid Minecraft notebook novels, Graley's Glitch, or Hansan's  My Video Game Ate My Homework will find this highly amusing. 
What I really think: I really hate video games. Didn't quite realize how much until I read this. Because my students like them, I do have a number of books like Schrieber's Game Over, Pete Watson, Anderson's Insert Coin to Continue, or Mancusi's Dragon Ops. Heck, I've even read Hansan's history of video games, Game On!, and even declared a literary video game trend. But is this my thing? No. Will I buy? Debating.

Dillard, J. and Roberts, Akeem S. J.D. and the Great Barber Battle .
February 23rd 2021 by Kokila
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

**Spoiler alert**

J.D. is nervous about starting third grade, especially when his mother trims his hair and doesn't do a great job of it. He's afraid he will get teased, since most of the other kids at his school go to the local barber shop in his town of Meridian, Mississippi, or have a more talented family member do their hair, and he's right. Determined to make things better, he gets his hands on his mother's trimmer. He wisely decides to test his skills on his younger brother first, and when that hair cut goes well, he does his own hair. His mother doesn't get angry, and people at school envy his new do. He starts a small business cutting hair for $3, and soon has quite the clientele. J.D. thinks of all of the ways he can spend his new found wealth. He's able to hide this activity from his mother, since she is very busy working on her MBA, and his sister Vanessa is off running track. Henry, Jr., the owner of the barber shop, stops by the house to warn J.D. off, but he doesn't take it seriously until an inspector arrives from the health department and shuts J.D. down. To try to get his business back, J.D. challenges Henry, Jr. to a barber battle. If Henry wins, J.D. will stop cutting hair, but if J.D. wins, Henry will leave him alone. Henry agrees to this, and soon the competition is set, with another local salon owner helping to organize and judge. **Spoiler alert** Not surprisingly, J.D. wins, and starts charging $5 per cut. His business increases so much that Henry's business is affected (even though previously, he had been so busy that the boys had to wait for a long time to get in.). Since one of the reasons the boys favor J.D.'s cuts is that Henry only knows three styles, Henry eventually comes and asks J.D. to come to work for him. J.D. must pay to rent the chair in the barber shop, but does the math to realize that he will still make more money than he would working from home. Things are really looking up for J.D. until he gets home to realize that his sister Vanessa has taken over his room to style hair for HER friends, which could certainly set the stage for an interesting sequel. 
Strengths: This was a fun story about a boy who had a passion for something and worked to make his dreams a reality. The author is a "barberpreneur" who brings a vast array of details about cutting and styling hair to vivid reality on the page (I did NOT know that sometimes shaved designs are highlighted with colored pencils! The pencils I use for quilting designs are the water color type, so if I get really bored...) J.D. is surrounded by a supportive family and good friends, and has realistically difficult interactions with some of the people at school. Young readers always like to see kids best grown ups, and J.D. certainly triumphs over Henry, Jr., and in doing so, gets better barber service for his town. The accompanying illustrations are attractive and make some of the descriptions in the text easier to understand. There's a lot of humor in this book, and a much needed up beat tone. I was very glad to see that this is set to be available at Target, since it is a great choice for an early chapter book and deserves a wide readership. 
Weaknesses: While younger readers won't know or care, the battle and J.D.'s home business as well as his job at the barber shop are very unrealistic. There are concerns about health and safety regulations that can't just be ignored because J.D. wins the battle, and there are child labor laws that would most likely preclude him working for Henry in the barber shop. This won't detract from the story for most readers, but it bothered me. 
What I really think: This is a must purchase for elementary school libraries and might work well for less enthusiastic readers in middle school who are very concerned with hair and fashion. Since I always trimmed my own children's hair on the porch and haven't had a professional cut since October 2019, I didn't quite understand the obsession, but found the book to be an engaging read.  

No comments:

Post a Comment