Monday, October 11, 2021

MMGM- Mighty Inside

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

In planning my reading over the weekend, I was struck by the lack of titles coming out in December. I try to post books close to their date of publication, but I have no posts for the last half of November and most of December, even though my reading list is starting to include January titles. Is this what is actually happening, or am I missing something?

Thought about posting reviews of older titles I am weeding or keeping (on which side will Miss Hickory land?), but there's no point to that. Instead, the plan is to read everything in order of publication, and just fill in the empty slots, even though the title might not come out for another month. I apologize in advance for any confusion this might create, but it's the only that makes sense. 

This has not been the least stressful of school years, and my brain needs something that makes sense right now! 

Frazier, Sundee. Mighty Inside
October 12th 2021 by Levine Querido
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Melvin lives with his family in Spokane, Washington in 1955. He has an older brother and sister (Chuck and Marian), as well as a younger sister, Maisy, who wants to be a newspaper reporter. His grandmother and other relatives live nearby, and the family has a small community of Black friends who get together, since most of their school and community are white. Melvin has a pronounced stutter, plays the accordion, and would rather just keep to himself, all things that his brother says mark him as a "square" and will run him into trouble when he starts high school. His parents are fairly support, but also push him to do more things than he is really comfortable with. Starting at Grover Cleveland High School is stressful, especially when there are bullies like Gary and Troy who call him "Skip" and are also very prejudiced against Blacks. Even though he doesn't realize it at first, Melvin is lucky to meet the talkative Lenny Carini, who lives with his mother above the Harlem Club. His father, who was Jewish, was killed in the war, and the two are struggling, although Lenny plays saxophone and is hoping to play on the local talent show, Starlit Stairway, and is enthralled with the band at the club. Having a friend makes a difference, and Lenny encourages Melvin to be braver. He actually talks to Millie Takazawa, on whom he has a big crush, and learns more about her life, including the fact that her family was in a Japanese American internment camp during the war, when she was very small. Lenny and Melvin work on their act, and do get a chance to play on the local program. Melvin's sister, who is very popular, is in the running for homecoming queen, and Melvin has to take a family friend instead of Millie. Things don't go well at the dance, and Melvin and the group want to leave the dance early and go to the Harlem Club to see Lenny play. The problem is that the club, which is run by a Black man, is whites-only every day but Sunday and Monday, and the dance is on Saturday. Lenny's mother manages to get them in, but things go badly wrong. Lenny and his mother need a place to stay, and when they show up at Melvin's house, a long lost connection between the two families is discovered. 
Strengths: There were so many things going on in the 1950s, and yet, there is very little written about that time period. Fallout (as well as progress) after the war, racial tensions, and very different treatment of people with disabilities, not to mention huge cultural shifts in entertainment, clothing, and styles of living, make this a fascinating decade. Add to this Melvin's rather unique experience (based on the author's own family history) of being a Black student in an area where there are so few Blacks, and his struggles with his stutter, and this makes for a riveting story. I don't want to ruin the twist at the end, but it involves real life laws about restrictive real estate covenants that recently made the news here in Ohio. Including Millie's family experiences with internment is perfect. The characters are all really appealing, from the unstoppable Lenny to Grandma Robinson, who worked at the Spokane Club, to 1950s jock older brother Chuck. There are plentiful details about daily life (Starched shirts! Mailing away for things from Popular Science! And sadly, people who name their dogs inappropriate racial slurs.) as well. I loved Frazier's The Other Half of My Heart (2010), Brendan Buckley (2008), and Cleo Edison Oliver, but think that her real talent might well lie with historical fiction writing! I'd love to see her take on busing in the 1970s.
Weaknesses: At one point, a teacher talks to Melvin about his stutter, and offers his wife's services as a speech therapist to work with him. There's so much else going on that this doesn't get followed up, but it would have been fascinating to see what techniques were used in the 1950s to try to help. 
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and I love that this is upper middle grade, with a high school freshman character. I would love to see Maisy's story given attention in her own book, and as always, look forward to whatever Ms. Frazier writes next. 

Sandler, Martin W. Picturing a Nation:The Great Depression's Finest Photographers Introduce America to Itself 
October 12th 2021 by Candlewick Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

This overview of the Farm Security Administration's photography project to capture daily life during the Great Depression includes 140 period photographs by photographers such as Dorothea Lange and Gordon Parks, and discusses the artistic and social impact of this endeavor. It covers the efforts of Roy Stryker to not only hire excellent photographers and send them to impoverished regions of the US, but his determination to have these photographs widely disseminated in magazines and books, and later preserved in the Library of Congress. They have since been digitized and can be seen online today. (

I have always been interested in this era, and the photographs point out the extreme poverty of this time that people today can't quite begin to understand. People were barely clothed, lived in tents and shacks, and even if they had homes, would insulate and decorate them with newspapers. Food was often lacking, this shows clearly in the gaunt figures. Still, the photographers tried to capture everyday joyous moments, and always treated their subjects with respect. The most fascinating thing I learned was that the dictate for this project was specifically to capture details of this moment in history that Stryker knew would soon be gone. He wanted photographers to capture household equipment, the clothing people wore, signs of products that were in daily use, and the landscape devasted by the Dust Bowl. At the time, these pictures were used to help get federal assistance, which is why they were allowed to be used by magazines (the primary way to deliver them at the time) for free. Kodachrome film had recently been developed, so there are color pictures that are almost 100 years old. 

Dorothea Lange is the photographer most familiar to me, because of Elizabeth Partridge's great biography of her aunt, Restless Spirit (1998), but I was captivated by the stories of the other photographers, especially Gordon Parks, a groundbreaking Black photographer. I would love to see a biography of him, as well as Mariojn Post Wolcott. 

This was a quick read, and I am definitely purchasing. I loved Sandler's Race Through the Skies, and 1919: The Year That Changed America, and need to more thoroughly investigate his more than 70 books, right after I finish getting lost in the FSA photographs. 


  1. I'm so sorry about the publishing-date conundrum! I honestly have no clue if anything is coming out or not, since I usually wait on other bloggers to suggest books unless they're graphic novels (and those are just now finally starting to come out—I feel like there've been none all year!). But getting ahead on books seems like a fair strategy—I'm not one of your librarian readers, but as just a book lover, it works for me!

    As for these books, I hadn't heard of Mighty Inside (probably because it's just now out), but it sounds like such a powerful story! All of the the details of the 1950s (good, bad, and ugly) must make for an intriguing read. I have heard good things about Picturing a Nation, and to sounds great! Thanks so much for the great reviews, as always!

  2. Mighty Inside sounds like a terrific story. I am going to have to find a copy of that one. I really enjoyed Picturing a Nation, but the ARC I received was all in black and white, and I want to see the final all in color. It's a really good book. Thanks for your reviews.