Monday, July 12, 2021

MMGM- Ten Thousand Tries and Larger Than Life

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 
Makechnie, Amy. Ten Thousand Tries
July 13th 2021 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Golden Maroni is a HUGE soccer fan, and aspires to be like his hero, Lionel Messi. His father, a high school teacher and soccer coach, also loves the game, but his ALS diagnosis is slowing him down considerably. Golden and his sisters, younger Roma and Whitney, and older Jaimes, can see that their father's condition is worsening, and have been told that ALS has no cure. Their biologist mother is coping the best she can, and is on top of treatment and accommodations as the father's condition worsens. His friend and neighbor Lucy has been away for the summer, and he has cared for her cat, Curtis Meowfield. Golden is determined to be made captain of his team along with his friend Benny Ho, and have a great 8th grade year. He even approaches his doctor at his yearly physical about growth hormones, since he is the smallest in his class, but is told this isn't the time. Luckily, being small and fast is an advantage in soccer, and Golden is very invested in playing for the team his mother is coaching. He's very concerned about Lucy. Her mother is dating George, whom they call "the Dark Lord", and it seems likely that he has a job in Maine and the family will move there. Golden does a few things to sabotage the real estate agent's attempts to sell the house, but George catches onto him. The Maroni's family life is very busy, and as the father steadily declines, more and more work falls on the children. Golden isn't thrilled about combing his sisters' hair, doing his own laundry, and having to go grocery shopping, but after a talk with his father, tries to help out more and make the days more pleasant. As summer turns into fall, Golden's soccer season is a success, but his father's condition rapidly worsens, and Golden struggles with how he will continue when both his father and Lucy are gone. 
Strengths: I'm not a fan of sad books, but this one has a brilliant balance between soccer and every day life, and dealing with the devastating progression of ALS. There's just enough details of the father's condition, and it's contrasted with Golden's misguided belief that his father can overcome the disease. The organizational problems of a family adjusting to having one less parent to help out is also brilliantly described-- I don't know that I have ever seen morning chaos depicted quite so brilliantly in a middle grade novel. While this is sad, the family's approach is pragmatic. The mother cries occasionally, the children are told that their father is going to die, and there are difficult emotions, such as when Golden accuses his mother of wanting the father to die because she's not trying to make him "better". Golden is so wrapped up in his own problems that he doesn't notice that his friend Benny's grandmother is descending into dementia, and the two have some difficulties over soccer as well. Golden at one point says "I wish we could rewind. Before...everything. When life was perfect and I didn't even know it." (Italics mine; quote from the ARC) This is quite possibly the most poignant line in all of middle grade literature. But overall, there is a feeling of life, and living, and making the most of each day no matter what happens. I loved that Golden is determined to put in the 10,000 hours needed to make him an expert at soccer. This novel zips along like a soccer ball heading toward the goal, taking unpredictable zigs and zags along the way. 
Weaknesses: I could have done without the character of Gag Me, Mrs. Gagne, the bus driver and lunch lady, who was described as a "terrifying curmudgeon". Granted, that's the look I'm going for personally, but it seemed mean and out of character for Golden. It also seemed odd to start each chapter with a quote from a character in that chapter. 
What I really think: Note to all middle grade authors: if you have to write a sad book, include a LOT of sports details in it. I have one Messi fan who will swallow this book whole because of the soccer even though it's hard to get him to read realistic fiction. Well done, and I still tear up when I think about that line. It's so true. 

Quirk, Anne. Larger Than Life: Lyndon B. Johnson and the Right to Vote
July 13th 2021 by Norton Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

I have to admit that my biography section does not have that many books about presidents. With the exception of Freedman's Lincoln, they aren't that interesting, and my students seem to want only living ex-presidents. What they do want to read are books about presidents that put them into a larger historical context and have an interesting premise, such as Balis and Levy's fascinating and funny Bringing Down a President (Nixon), or Seiple's Death on the River of Doubt (Teddy Roosevelt). Larger Than Life fills the bill and offers a lot of surprises about a seemingly unlikely champion of civil rights. 

Johnson was president when I was born. If you had asked me what my general impression of the man was before I read this book, I would have said he was kind of a jerk. He stood too close to people in order to intimidate them, ran into problems with the Vietnam war, and most importantly, not only named his beagle "Him", but once lifted him up by his ears. Such issues are not whitewashed, but we do see more of Johnson's background and motivation. We also see the wide array of social issues that Johnson put forward as part of his "Great Society" initiative, such as social security, Medicare and Medicaid, Head Start, Voting Rights Act, urban renewal, and support for the arts and the environment. Considering how much backlash President Biden is getting currently for similar initiatives, it's impressive to see the variety of issues Johnson's administration was trying to address. 

The information is well presented and the moves along quickly. The type size and position on the page, along with the number and variety of photographs all make this a book that students will want to pick up-- while it's irritating, it's also true that my students don't want dense text. Of course, the photographs are black and white, and today's readers might need a reminder that color photography wasn't widely used! My only complaint is that the narrative doesn't proceed linearly, but goes back and forth in time. This makes sense considering the issues the author is trying to explain, but is still a bit jarring. 

Larger Than Life is a timely book about a lesser known president who made a surprising impact on society during his sometimes troubled stay in office, and is a great addition to a middle school biography collection. Not only that, but his cowboy hat and suit make him an easy choice for a wax museum subject!


  1. Ten Thousand Tries sounds like a great read! Golden sounds like a great protagonist, and the mixture of sports/more positive topics with the ALS diagnosis and coping is intriguing. The quote you include is beautiful! Also, with your note about morning chaos—I am re-reading my favorite book, Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead, right now, and although I'm not at this part yet, what you said made me remember this one particular page that also depicts morning chaos (and calmness) so well! And also, I may just have to join you on your journey toward terrifying curmudgeon-ness!

    Larger Than Life sounds like a great read as well! Johnson definitely advanced a surprising number of policies, from what I've learned—it's somewhat unfortunate that the Vietnam War kind of overshadows his entire legacy. That is strange that the narrative is non-linear, though!

    Also, I noticed your review of The Okay Witch on your archive, and I looked at it—I really need to get a copy of those books, since I've already read 5 graphic novels about witches since December! Thanks so much for the great reviews!

  2. An excellent review of Ten Thousand Tries. My dad had ALS for 8 years before passing away in his 80s. This is a disease that needs more stories to educate most who don't know much about the impact it has on families. Thanks for featuring on MMGM.

  3. If it's got soccer in it - and someone referred to as the "Dark Lord" - count me in as a reader.

  4. I really was surprised you liked Ten Thousand Tries since I know you don't like sad. It does sound very balanced, thanks to the sports. A lot of heavy topics for kids -- but it does reflect real life.

    I was 12 when Johnson became president. I didn't particularly like him and assumed things that I later discovered weren't true. But saw a documentary about him recently that made me aware of the many good things he did (you shared). I was surprised at how my views have changed. And his wife was his backbone and really was an asset too. Two good books.

  5. Thanks for the heads up about Ten Thousand Tries. It reminded me a bit of The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern. My father ended up using a wheelchair from the time I was 5. Life was chaotic as heck around our place. I'll be looking forward to reading it. I wish these kinds of books had been around when I was a kid.

  6. Ten Thousand Tries certainly seems worth a look, thanks for the great review.

  7. I would have passed right by any soccer book, but you make this one sound so worthwhile. I will put it on my list. The book about Johnson sounds fascinating. He was quite a character. I will be looking for that one too. Thanks for the post.