Monday, September 20, 2021

MMGM- Without Separation and How to Win a Slime War

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Brimner, Larry Dane and Gonzales, Maya (illus.)
Without Separation:Prejudice, Segregation, and the Case of Roberto Alvarez
September 14th 2021 by Calkins Creek
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this beautifully illustrated picture book, we learn the history of the Lemon Grove Grammar incident of 1931. At that time, the town only had the one elementary school, but community built another school, the Olive Street School, without a lot of fan fare, and abruptly sent all of the students of Mexican descent there after Christmas break. They claimed that it would better suit their needs. This, of course, was untrue. During the Great Depression, there was some thought that workers of Mexican descent were taking jobs away from white residents, and there were many attempts to segregate students. This did not sit well with Roberto Alvarez,who was a good student and very proficient in English. (The claim was made that the students struggled with language, and also that the school was built so that children didn't have to cross rail road tracks!) He and his family sued the school board to be allowed to continue with his friends in a school that he enjoyed. This was not an easy thing to do, especially since the school board tried to convince people that groups in Mexico were organizing the suit and some of the student actions attached to it. This was not true, and the judge decided that Lemon Grove had no power to set up a separate school. 

This would be a great book for a class read aloud on history that has been swept under the carpet for all too long. There were several court cases around this time, including Mendez vs. Westminster School District, about a decade later. This is a great summary of how decisions can be made by communities, justified, and impact students. 

The illustrations have a Southwestern feel to them, and give a good feel for what the 1930s looked like. The agricultural setting of the schools really comes to life, and the picture of the Lemon Grove Grammar school surrounded by lemon trees is particularly lovely. 

There are good notes at the end that explain more of the details not only of this case, but of the history of other segregation cases, such as the landmark Plessy vs. Ferguson that frequently comes up. This has a few photographs showing the school, and is a great resource. 

Understanding history is so important for all students, especially when it comes to the experiences of children their own age. Young readers assume that the world has always been the way it is for them, and it's good to introduce them to different times. It's also helpful to understand the long standing prejudices in the US that have continued systemic racism, and perhaps we will see improvements in our society as more of these cases are brought before the public eye again. 

Respicio, Mae. How to Win a Slime War
14 September 2021, Wendy Lamb Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Alex Manalo and his father have moved into his Lola and Lolo's house, since his father is tired of his Silicon Valley job and will be taking over the family Filipino market now that his grandparents are retired. Alex isn't too concerned about his new school, and he even deals well with the fact that his mother died when he was young. What is hard for him is that, while he is generally supportive, his father really doesn't understand Alex and his interests. Alex has long hair, and would rather be making slime than doing anything else. He is interested in the store, because he wants to be an entrepreneur. His father, however, played soccer in school and wants Alex to play... and he'll even coach! At school, Alex makes a fast friend in Logan, who is on the outs with his own best friend, and who introduces Alex to the history of the school's Slime Wars. There is another girl, Meadow, who is the reigning Slime Queen, and she is NOT happy about Alex cutting into her market, even though the school has forbidden even having slime at school, much less buying and selling it. Alex and Meadow start the Slime War, and will compete to see who can sell the most slime in a week, without getting caught. Alex has a rocky start, and also struggles with being goalie on his dad's soccer team, but makes a valiant effort, even going door to door to try to sell slime! Meadow is very cut throat and mean to Alex, but he starts to wonder if there is something behind her meanness. Alex's father is making a lot of changes at the Manalo Market to update it and bring in new business, but Alex does not like how his father is stripping the store of its personality and Filipino culture. Will Alex be able to stay out of trouble at school, be able to follow his own interests, and convince his father to keep some aspects of the family business?
Strengths: Even though I hate slime (the science classes make it, and I've had to clean enough of it out of the library carpet!), I love books where children have a definite passion. I'm not quite sure how widespread the love of slime is (apparently there is a social media personality who touts it), but there are a lot of recipes for the substance at the beginning of each chapter. The ins and outs of having a family business, along with being close to family for a change, are fun to read about.  The students are operating outside of the school rules, which specifically forbid slime, and this is done in a realistic way. Meadow is a great character; we don't see a lot of her at first, and she is quite mean, but when Alex gets to know her, he understands the pressures she is under, tries to help her, and the two end up coming up with a solution to the ongoing Slime Wars. The father's interest in soccer and insistence that Alex get involved in a sport is very realistic. I started coaching cross country in order to get my daughter to run, and while she didn't like the running part, she did have a good time and made some friends. This is exactly the sort of middle grade book that I wish made up the majority of my purchases, since it's what my students most often request: humorous, upbeat stories of children from a variety of backgrounds doing Interesting Things while having a bit of school drama. Perfect. 
Weaknesses: Alex's hair doesn't look that long on the cover, and I had hoped he would enjoy soccer more. Also, slime doesn't seem particularly useful or environmentally friendly. 
What I really think: This is exactly the sort of middle grade book that I wish made up the majority of my purchases, since it's what my students most often request: humorous, upbeat stories of children from a variety of backgrounds doing Interesting Things while having a bit of school drama. Perfect for fans of Gordon Korman, Richards' Stu Truly, Acampora's Danny Constantino's First Date and Uhrig's Double the Danger and Zero Zucchini. 

Steele, Philip and Nobati, Eugenia (illustrations) 
The Magnificent Book of Treasures: Ancient Egypt 
September 21st 2021 by Weldon Owen
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Steele does an excellent job of writing informative nonfiction, including his The Holocaust (2016), which has gotten a LOT of use in my library. This book on ancient Egypt has just what the title states; page after page of pictures and descriptions of Egyptian treasures. There is a wide array, from statues to canopic jars to mummies. The illustrations are so life like that I thought several were photographs of the artifacts! Each illustration is accompanied by a list of information about the origins of the type of item, manufacturing process, and use in the tombs, and there is a "Fact File" that lists the dates, materials, and size. The pages are really beautiful, with a colorful faience like border. This could be useful for students doing reports, and since our 6th grade covers ancient Egypt in social studies, I definitely think I will purchase it. It is short enough that it would also lend itself to pleasure reading. When my older daughter was in 6th grade, we constructed a cardboard pyramid with shelves for her teacher, who assigned students a project where they had to make an item for the "tomb", and then they had a "burial". This would be good for showing students ideas for that kind of project as well. It was a fun project-- I forget what my daughter did, but I remember the Barbie shabtis, which were actually really well done!


  1. Loved your comment about books students' request. I agree 100%. I hope agents and publishers take note. At the least lets cut down on the dead or missing parent trope. Anyway, thanks for being a part of MMGM!

  2. I did a slime workshop at our library a couple years ago - oh my, what a mess! who knew a few ingredients from the kitchen mixed together could create such disaster - but something the kids really love!

  3. Without Separation sounds like a powerful book.

  4. How to Win a Slime War sounds like an excellent read—I love your comment as well about books where kids are doing "Interesting Things"! That pretty much sums it up. I remember the slime craze a few years ago—I'm not sure if it's still big now, but I may just not be paying attention. Without Separation sounds powerful as well! Thanks so much for the great post!

  5. I'm glad to learn about Without Separation: Prejudice, Segregation, and the Case of Roberto Alvarez from your post. I'm adding it to my list. I've been studying Ancient Egypt with my kiddos this month and sure wish I'd had The Magnificent Book of Treasures. We've learned a great deal about the pyramids and burials in recent days, but seeing the artifacts is especially helpful. Thanks for these reviews, Karen!

  6. I just asked my local library to order Without Separation, and they are doing that. I look forward to reading that one. The other two look interesting as well. Thanks for the reviews.