Monday, May 10, 2021

MMGM- The Best Worst Summer

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Eulberg, Elizabeth. The Best Worst Summer
May 4th 2021 by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
ARC provided by the publisher

Peyton is having the WORST summer. Her family has moved from Minneapolis to the small town of Lake Springs, where her mother has gotten a university job. Her father is working from home but always busy, her brother is absorbed in video games, and she has plenty of time on her hands to miss her best friend, Lily. When she reluctantly does some gardening chores for her father, she finds a time capsule in the garden from 1989. In alternating chapters, we then get to see the story of Melissa and Jessica and the BEST summer that they had in 1989. The two friends, one whose professional parents adopted her from China, and one whose more working class parents are struggling, especially with their marriage, plan on eating lunches at the local cafe, hanging out at the bookstore, and generally having a good time. To memorialize their time, they are planning on a time capsule with pictures of their favorite pop stars, a mix tape, and other memorabilia. Peyton's summer improves when she meets Lucas at the library. His friends are at camp, and his over protective mother (he's in a wheelchair) prefers he wander the town with someone. Peyton's dad eventually relents as they get to know the town, so the two are able to follow Melissa and Jessica's path, talk to people, and try to figure out who they were. As Melissa's home life starts to deteriorate, it is harder and harder for her to get along with Jess. The two have to part suddenly, and the time capsule is Jessica's way of trying to apologize, but of course, it is never received. Can Peyton and Lucas use their 21st century skills and technology to get the two friends back together?
Strengths: So, I started teaching in...1989. My first batch of students now have... middle school students. Excuse me while I fix my dentures and adjust my support hose and girdle. Oh, my. The details of 1989 are spot on. I think I still have the exact cassette tape described-- a mix tape of Weird Al that one of my students gave me! I also enjoyed the geometric page decorations on the chapters from that era. Both stories hold up on their own, but intertwine well. Eulberg, who writes YA titles like Past Perfect Life, Better off Friends, and Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality, nails the middle grade voice perfectly. The small town setting was fun, and the contrast to summers for children now and in the past was interesting to see. 
Weaknesses: Melissa's family situation was key to so much of the book, yet the father's character seemed very flat. Younger readers won't care as much about his motivations, but I somehow wanted to know more. The ending was a bit predictable for an older reader, as well, but again-- younger readers will love the resolution.
What I really think: This will make 44 year olds feel ancient, but be intriguing to younger readers. If it gives them insight into what their parents' lives were like, all the better. A fun read, and easy to recommend to students who have seen The Baby-Sitters Club television show on Netflix. Since I have an actual paper ARC, I know just the student to whom to hand this today!

Here's a book that Melissa and Jessica (or Peyton and Lucas) could have used!

Fieri, Jenny and Seabrook, Alexis (illus.). The Girl's Guide to Building a Fort
May 4th 2021 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Copy provided by the publisher

Judging from Grandin's The Outdoor Scientist, children today need help occupying themselves. Certainly, my students seem to spend a disproportionate amount of time on their phones, which my own personal children never did. This STEM-focused guide to "Indoor and Outdoor Adventures for Hands-On Girls" has plenty of suggestions for things to do!

Divided into the broad categories of "Let's Be..." scientists, trailblazers, atheltes, artists, builders, and chefs, each has about a dozen different activities. These ranges from detailed instructions for science labs or recipes, to information about a topic to checklists for exploring the woods or going to the library. As with the Laura Ingalls Wilder Companion, I would have been obsessed with this book and driven my mother up the wall trying to do every single activity in the book! 

Most of the activities have reasonable supplies that I would have had around the house-- chalk, string or rope, paints and coloring materials. I sort of want to go and buy a quart of chalkboard paint right now and paint some rocks. The recipes are also doable, and I love that different herbs and vegetables are discussed. Would two pounds of eye of round ever have been allowed to be turned into beef jerky in my house? Absolutely not! But I do kind of want to do that as well. 

My only objections to the book are that it shouldn't be labeled just for girl, and the assumption of middle class resources. Why construct something to sell to only girls? There is nothing to be gained from that, even from a publishing perspective of making money. These activities would work best with adult supervision or guidance, and some of the supplies will not be readily available to all readers. 

This is a very helpful book that will be well-used in the right hands. The activities are really nicely  described and thought out, and the instructions are so complete that beleaguered grown ups are not going to have to spend too much time helping. I like that there are more activity books listed at the back-- when visiting the library, why not pick them up?


  1. The Best Worst Summer sounds like a terrific summer read. Although I felt myself cringe at the thought of 1989 as being "the old days." I remember that time so clearly, wearing a lot Liz Claiborne flowing dresses to work etc. and I had a five-year-old daughter. Readers love time capsules and it's clever to choose a year when your parents would have been teens. Sounds like this will be popular among at school.
    I really love Girl's Guide to Building a Fort -- can't tell you how many I tried to build in trees and on the ground in the late 50s. So much fun. We used a lot of imaginations. But, craft books were my thing -- so this book would appeal to me. And, I agree, this book should be gender neutral. Great summer choices!

  2. I know I will enjoy reading how to build a fort!!! And I agree that the title could have just been something like The Ultimate Guide to Building a Fort... :)
    Love the cover of that book though..
    Magic Monday – A Little Music to Lift Moods & Worry Worries

  3. I enjoyed the review and your memory of 1989 was hilarious. I'm looking forward to reading this title during the summer. Thanks for featuring on MMGM.

  4. The time capsule sounds like a fun way to explore the past for kids today! Thanks for sharing this title. I will have to get my hands on a copy!

  5. These books sound really fun! The Best Worst Summer has a really intriguing premise—if I ever have time to add more books to the endless stack in my bookcase, I'll keep it in mind! The Girl's Guide to Building a Fort sounds fun as well, though I am also confused as to why that needs to be gendered (and it's disappointing that the projects may not be accessible to all kids). Thanks so much for the great reviews!

  6. These both sound fun. The Best Worst Summer is really intriguing. It's a fun idea to base a story on finding a time capsule and trying to put everything together from that. Thanks for the review.

  7. Oh lord, I'm in my 40s and I just got The Best Worst Summer from my library lol! I feel like everything I've been reading lately is a bit too old for the 3rd and 4th graders at my school, this one sounds like it might be perfectly suited for them!