Monday, May 17, 2021

MMGM--The Road to Wherever

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Bradley, John Ed. The Road to Wherever
May 11th 2021 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

June Ball (so called because he was named after his father, hence "Junior") does not want to spend his summer with his father's cousins. However, his father, a military veteran, has left home, and his mother needs someone to watch him while she works. The cousins, Thomas and Cornell, are mechanics who travel the country and fix vintage Fords for people who have compelling emotional reasons to save the vehicles. They charge only for parts, making the trips inexpensive by living out of a make shift camper truck. June isn't thrilled, but does manage to learn a fair bit about fixing Fords. The trio travels from Wisconsin to various locations where they are needed, and run into any number of interesting people, from a young man who run's his grandfather's diner and has inherited his car as well, to a woman whose reporter husband was shot in the car during a Civil Rights protest in the 1960s. 
Strengths: Quick! Name all of the middle grade books that deal with cars and car repair. Can't think of any? I can't, either. As someone who realized early in life that I would never drive a 1965 Ford Falcon because I had no idea how to repair them, I very much enjoyed reading about the vintage car repairs that June and his cousins do. Sure, there's some serious stuff about his dad's struggles having come back from the military, and some of the car owners have problems of their own that the cousins can't fix, but in general, this is a great meander across the US, broken up by cups of coffee at small diners. This is more middle grade than this author's Call Me By My Name, which is very popular with my 8th graders. I think Mr. Bradley has a knack for middle grade.
Weaknesses: Is this a little slow for younger readers? Not a lot happens, but somehow I was just swept away by the narrative. It wouldn't have hurt to add an explosion or two. But then, pretty much every middle grade book could use an explosion or two. June's name distracted me a bit.
What I really think: This was a great road trip book, and those are always popular with my students. Just for a start, road trip books to consider include Cooney's Hit the Road, Davis' Mare's War, the Paulsens' Road Trip, Acampora's How to Avoid ExtinctionCavanaugh's When I Hit the Road and Pla's The Someday Birds. I'm glad to include this title, with its quirky uncles and car repair details, to this list. 

Just read this evocative paragraph from the E ARC: "We make stops in Enid, Ardmore, and Okemah, all good Ford towns in Oklahoma. Then in Mississippi it's Eupora and Clarksdale. We work on a Del Rio, a Model 48, a Skyliner, a Vanette, and a Pinto. We camp behind a church and a skating rink and in a cemetery, a salvage yard, and the courtyard of a small animal hospital where they must let the patients use the bathroom." If Mr. Bradley had just added a bag of sour balls to the glove compartment, it would have been a lot like my family trips when I was young.

Drimmer, Stephanie Warren. More Surprising Stories Behind Everyday Stuff
April 6th 2021 by National Geographic Kids
Copy provided by the publisher

Playthings. Food. Clothing. Traditions. Things in the home. Ancient Inventions. All things I love to read about, and all covered in this bright confection of a book. I always bought the yearly Almanacs when I had to take my children on the weary road trip from Ohio to western Iowa in the summer, but this would be even more fun!

Each two page spread covers one topic, and includes all manner of information, as well as more pictures than you would think could be crammed into a 6.5" square book. The ancient toy section includes six different toys, and the fairy tale pages briefly discuss five! The whole range of history is covered, and there's even a "They came from space" entry that discusses different "futuristic" inventions that we have because of space missions! 

There are so many fun things to share with other people who are stuck in the car with you, although I don't know that I want to check out the vending machines in Japan that sell fresh eggs, rhinoceros beetles, or toilet paper. Our vending machines in the US are boring by comparison, although I think I saw one for ice cream at an airport a couple of years ago. 

I bought very few books for my children, but the $10 price tag for this small booklet is well worth it for the pictures alone. My one suggestions, based on experience-- when this is reduced to ragged bits of paper because it has been read so much, don't discard it, or fifteen years later, your children will complain. Better yet, buy two copies and keep one for their reminiscing!


  1. Thanks for sharing The Road to Wherever & the More Surprising Stories. My granddaughters love books that tell those background stories of 'stuff'. I'll be sure to find that one.

  2. The Road to Wherever sounds like an interesting story, between the car repair and the side characters! Also, I love your comment about how MG books need more explosions. More Surprising Stories Behind Everyday Stuff sounds like a great book as well—I read a lot of the National Geographic books when I was younger, and this sounds like a great addition to those! Thanks for the great reviews!

  3. I'm sorry but I grew up in a Chevy family. However, if I suddenly inherited, several million dollars, the first thing I'd do would be buy a '64 Ford Mustang, the coolest car ever made.

  4. I've been reading a lot of road trip books lately. I really enjoyed Wrong Way Summer, and this sounds like it has a similar feel. I have to agree that there are few MG books about car repairs, and it's great that kids can get some exposure through this one.
    Surprising Stories sounds like an intriguing read. I know kids always devour books with lots of facts!

  5. Last summer I enjoyed Anthem by Deborah Wiles, another great road trip book! My inlaws travelled across Canada in a Model T to setting in the town where they finally settled. I'm really looking forward to reading The Road to Wherever.

  6. The Road to Wherever sounds wonderful... And makes me miss the longer road trips we took (seems like ages ago, though I think the last one was in Dec 2019!!)

  7. Haven't heard of any MG books about car repairs. This book sounds like a fascinating read -- think my husband would enjoy it because of the cars. Some of the cars mentioned are ones he would have driven. I remember the Ford Falcon. And I remember going on long summer (6- week) family road/camping trips to visit the National parks in a Ford station wagon with brown paneling and no air conditioning. One of my favorite books is The Someday Birds. Enjoyed your review.

  8. I do love a good road trip book. I think my favorite I've read recently was The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise. I know. I was late to the party, but I finally got to it. I will have to pick up The Road to Wherever. I like all the NatGeo books. This one sounds fun. Thanks for the reviews.