Monday, September 13, 2021

MMGM- The Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna and The Curse of the Mummy

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 
Dodds, Alma P. Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna
September 14th 2021 by Sourcebooks
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Things are difficult in Mexico in 1913, especially for Petra's family. Her mother died when her baby brother Luisito was born, and since her father was taken away by soliders during the revolution, her abuelita is taking care of her and her sister Amelia as well. When the Federales attack Petra's village, the family flees before their house is burned. Before her father left, Petra promised to keep her family safe, so she takes them across the countryside before seeking refuge at a church. There, she meets a girl named Adeline who is from the US, and who is trying to get back there with her mother. She asks Petra to go with them, but Petra is determined to get her whole family to the US. The journey is arduous, and tears up their feet, but they persevere. When Luisito becomes feverish, however, they stop to seek aid from soldiers. A woman named Marietta helps them, and they receive food and medical care. Marietta is a soldada, a woman soldier, with the revolutionaries working with Pancho Villa. Impressed  by Petra's determination, she asks Petra to become a soldier as well, but Petra again decides to stay with her family, even though her family could have become soldaderas, who cooked and kept the soldiers going. Since Petra also has a dream to become educated and break away from the social systems that kept her family in poverty, they press on until they come to a border town. There they find many people trying to get across a bridge into the US. The bridge closes, the cost to get across skyrockets, and it's all Petra can do to keep her family fed. Will she be able to find a way to get them across the border to a better life? 
Strengths: This is based on an event in the life of the author's great grandmother, and I love that she investigated a family story and was able to write a book about it after finding out that there was a particular event that she could pin down. This is an interesting story that readers who like adventure and survival tales will enjoy. I'm a big fan of any book that shows how difficult life was for children at other points in history or is for other children in the world; I read a lot of these when I was young, and think it gave me a lot of perspective that was very useful. Petra is a resourceful and determined girl who is willing to fight to overcome obstacles to get her family to safety, even though she could choose other ways forward for herself. In addition to her journey, there is plenty of history scattered throughout the book, and a nice timeline of events at the end of the book to help make sense of the overall picture. 
Weaknesses: For some reason, the phrase "baby diamond" (pertaining to the lump of coal Petra carries with her because her father gave it to her) was grating. I loved the thought behind it (that Petra could be like the coal, and would shine like a diamond after withstanding pressure), but the phrase seemed odd. 
What I really think: Like Sanchez's The Wind Called My Name, this covers Latinx history of which I was unaware. If you had asked me before reading this book, I would have said that Pancho Villa, like Lyndon Johnson, was not a particularly helpful historical figure. I'm always glad to see books that educate readers about historical events while also being interesting. Will definitely purchase.

My children's great-great-great grandfather shot and killed his wife because she was going to divorce him in the 1860s because he was an alcoholic, then killed himself, leaving their six children to be taken on an orphan train from Wisconsin to Iowa. I've always thought there was a book in THAT somewhere!

Fleming, Candace. The Curse of the Mummy: Uncovering Tutankhamun's Tomb
September 7th 2021 by Scholastic Focus
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Disclaimer: Some of my best friends studied ancient archaeology. It is of note that none of them are practicing archaeologists, since there were no jobs.

Ah, the checkered past of archaeology. Look! Here are sacred objects buried for thousands of years! Let's dig them up, take them out of their native country, and use them as knick knacks in our parlor! Thankfully, by the time Lord Carnavon was determined to have a dig at the Valley of the Kings in Egypt, and got Howard Carter to lead it, things had changed a bit from the style of the 1800s excavations, and the dig, while not perfect, was well documented. Fleming gives us a brief overview of earlier practices and the push to find artifacts, information about Carnavon and Carter, a smattering of Egyptian politics, and even some discussion about the interest in the supernatural after World War I. 

That's all good stuff, and aligns with our 6th grade social studies unit on ancient cultures. Tutankhamun's career and burial are definitely something that are still studied, and this helpfully includes a timeline of pharoahs so that Tut's place within history is clear. But the brilliant part is that Fleming tells us all of the suspected incidents of "curses" that came out of the discoveries before swiftly and decisively debunking them. Even the cover has those great glowing eyes and smoke trail hinting that there's some greater power at work... but there isn't. There are even statistics about life expectancies of people who were present at the tomb as opposed to those not. The curse is a good story to lure readers in, but the actual history and the details about how a dig is properly run are what is truly fascinating. 

I was surprised at the number of really good pictures of the dig, and the numbering of objects that Carter did, although I shouldn't have been. It was fun to see some of the stuffy English workers in their long john tops and what looked like plimsoll shoes! Of course, the research is brilliant, and like other books by Fleming (most notably The Family Romanov), even if I don't quite feel like reading a long nonfiction book, the writing sucks me right in. 

This might be a stretch for some middle school readers, but I've had an increasing number of students who want quality, narrative nonfiction books, and since this aligns with the curriculum, I don't have to feel at all bad about buying it. 

If I need any more excuse, it would be to offer this as a precursor to reading David MacCauley's The Motel of the Mysteries (October 11, 1979), which I would have sworn I read in middle school, but I couldn't have, since it didn't come out until I was in high school. A lot of work for a few archaeology jokes (especially since you really need background information about Schliemann at Hisarlik), but totally worth it!


  1. I just had to go make sure I have Barefoot Dreams of Petra Lunda on my list. This review especially spoke to me. And my goodness, your great-great-great grandfather's story already has my attention! Whoa. Have a great week, Karen!

  2. Thanks so much for sharing these books. I hadn't heard of any of them. I'm particularly excited about Barefoot Dreams.

  3. I've heard good things about Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna—I believe Natalie Aguirre interviewed the author just today! It sounds excellently written. Also, yes, I think there might be a story in your great-great-grandfather too—goodness!

    The Curse of the Mummy sounds fascinating, and I love how Fleming draws readers in with the curses, debunks them, and then fascinates them with the actual archaeological details! Thank you so much for the intriguing book reviews!

  4. Thanks for sharing this book. I always enjoy your reviews... I usually pop down to the strengths and weaknesses then go back to read the whole thing!

    Interesting about those poor six children losing their parents like that!!! Wow!