Monday, January 31, 2022

February Releases

Okay. A lot of people do very lovely posts on upcoming books, but I... have no patience. 

Here are all of the books that I either read or plan to read that are being published in February. This list is pulled from and links to Goodreads.

MMGM- Wreck at Ada's Reef and Wangari Maathai

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 
Beil, Michael J. The Wreck at Ada's Reef (Swallowtail Legacy #1)
February 1st 2022 by Pixel+ink
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Lark and her younger sister Pip have had a hard go of it. Their father died when they were very young, and their ornithology professor mother married Thomas, whose wife also died. They had a Brady Bunch style family going with his three boys until Lark's mother died of cancer. For the summer, the family is visiting Swallowtail Island in Lake Erie near Sandusky, Ohio, where their mother owned a house that has been passed down to the girls. Thomas has a job restoring some pictures at the island museum, so the children are signed up for soccer camps and other activities. A friend of their mother's, news reported Nadine, is around as well. Nadine is trying to figure out a 75 year old mystery about the death of her grandfather in a boating accident. The local leading family, the Cheevers, own much of the land, and intend to develop it with condos and other less peaceful uses, at the expense of 93-year-old Dinah Purdy, who has been allowed to live on the land because her ancestors worked with the Cheevers. Nadine feels that there's something not quite right about the accident, and feels there might be a missing will. She hires Lark to help her with research. Lark also plays soccer with Owen Cheever, whom she feels is kind of a jerk, and he becomes the object of her wrath. Clearly, her mother's death is hitting her hard, and she doesn't have quite the support she needs. Pip is obsessed with horses, so is glad when Nadine loans her a horse for the summer. As Lark gets further and further into the research, all manner of enticing clues emerge, such as a beautiful glass bird nestled in the cut out pages of an old book and a painting of a much younger Dinah that Thomas is restoring. As she closes in on some important clues, Lark and her siblings, slong with Owen, get drawn into a harrowing chase during a storm that involves jumping from balconies, a frantic horse ride, and a perilous journey on the ferry, followed closely by adults who don't want secrets to come to light. Can Lark still save the day?
Strengths: Lark is a nuanced and interesting character. She's not dealing with the death of her mother particularly well, but she is definitely trying to figure out how to proceed with her life in order to help out her younger sister. Swallowtail Island is a fascinating (fictional) setting, and the maps (which I normally don't like) were really helpful. The history is incorporated well, and the older characters in the book like Dinah, Vietnam vet and active boater Les Finlay, and Dinah's contemporary Simon Standford. Thomas' struggles to keep tabs on all five children while remaining employed are very realistic. The highlight, of course, is Lark's ability to solve mysteries by attention to details and asking the right questions of the right people. Will she be solving more mysteries on the island?
Weaknesses: There are lots of clues to follow, and even a transcript of an inquest, so readers who enjoy following along with Lark and trying to figure out the mystery will love this. I find that my attention wavers; I'm perfectly happy to just be told the solution at the end. Also, did we have to kill off THREE parents?
What I really think: I'd forgotten what a great, well-developed mystery Beil writes, since The Red Blazer Girls came out in 2009 and Summer at Forsaken Lake in 2012. I'm also a huge fan of how he incorporates Ohio and Lake Erie settings in his work. I'll be looking forward to a second in this series. 

Odhiambo, Eucabeth and Flint, Gillian (illus.) She Persisted: Wangari Maathai 
February 1st 2022 by Philomel Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Born in Kenya in 1940, Maathai enjoyed living in her small town, but soon had to move to the city so that her family could make a living. She excelled at school, and was very interested in science. Even though girls were not usually encouraged to be educated, her family supported her, and she won a scholarship to study in the US, where she earned two degrees in biology. She returned to Kenya in 1966 and realized that too many trees were being cut down, which impacted the quality of life for Kenyans. She taught at the University College of Nairobi, where she found her career was negatively impacted by the fact that she was female, but she resisted the gender discrimination of the time and fought for her rights. She also started the Green Belt Movement to encourage people to protect trees and to plant them rather than cut them down. She was married and divorced, and faced more discrimination, but persisted with her teaching and environmental activism. She was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, and, sadly, passed away in 2011. 
Strengths: I am always looking for biographies of people who have positively impacted the world, and for people who are not from the US. Environmental activism isn't new, but my students think it is. I love handing them books about Rachel Carson, Dian Fossey, John Muir, and others who were trying to protect the planet before things became so critical. Maathi is a very interesting person, and I love that this series gets authors who share cultural backgrounds with their subjects to write the stories. Tips on how to persist and help the world in the same way Maathai did  are included at the end, along with a bibliography.
Weaknesses: This is for readers in grades 1-4, so I will be looking for a slightly longer book for my library. My students also like to see photographs of biographical subjects when available, although the illustrations are very nice. 
What I really think: The She Persisted series is an essential purchase for public and elementary school libraries and would make fantastic presents for young readers. I was a huge fan of the Childhood of Famous Americans series, and would have absolutely adored these books as a child. 

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Sofía Acosta Makes a Scene

Otheguy, Emma. Sofía Acosta Makes a Scene 
January 25th 2022 by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Sofía lives with her family in a well-to-do fictional suburb of Pine Hill near New York City. Her parents, both ballet dancers, defected to the US from Cuba and teach dance at the local high school. Sofía and her siblings, Regina and Manuel, all take dance lessons and are involved in the local production of The Nutcracker. Manuel has the role of Fritz for the second year, even though he is only 8, and Regina is Dewdrop, a role that is usually hired from a professional company. Sofía would rather work on costumes than practice, but hopes to be in the party scene since her friend Tricia will most likely be there. She's already spending time away from Tricia since she was assigned to a different committee to plan a party for a teacher from Ireland who has just gotten his US citizenship; Tricia is on the decorating committee and Sofía has to work with the outspoken activist in her class, Laurita, on the history of immigration. Laurita is very passionate about a lot of things, including the new low income Acorn Apartments that are supposed to be built where there is currently a supermarket parking lot where a lot of children skateboard. The household is often filled with visitors, and Sofía's mother prides herself in allowing anyone to visit and stay if they need, and makes sure to stock the pantry with everyone's favorite snacks, even if they aren't that healthy. When the mother's best friend from Cuba, Yolanda, comes to spend time while her son, Alvero, is working with the American Ballet Theater, things get a little hectic. Sofía is having difficulties with Tricia, whose grandparents were immigrants but who now lives in a big house and belongs to the country club, and who doesn't have a good opinion of new immigrants or the new low income housing. Practices for the Nutcracker are hard, and she's not doing well. When she finds out that Alvero is thinking about defecting, she makes the mistake of confiding in Tricia. Will Sofía be able to be true to herself and also maintain her pride in her busy, Cuban family?
Strengths: Sofía is a typical middle school student who wants to please her family but is also at odds with them at times. I love that even though the parents are very busy, the household manages to expand and welcome guests, and their house is near the schools and shops. The sibling relationships are also well drawn, and Regina is both helpful towards and frustrated by her sister. It's understandable that Sofía wants to do ballet even though she doesn't like it-- who IS she if she is an Acosta who doesn't do ballet? It's the whole reason her family is in the US. Middle school is where having friends with different backgrounds can become complicated, and many relationships realign because of this, so seeing Tricia taking etiquette classes at the country club is a definite sign that things are about to change. I loved that Sofía was interested in sewing, and would have liked a lot more information about how her interest started and what she planned to do with it. 
Weaknesses: The writing definitely reflected the chaotic quality of the Acosta household, and I would have liked the story better if it had been more organized and streamlined. For example, more information about the apartment buildings and the need for them would have made this important issue clearer,. We could have done without Manuel's constant playdates and Sofía's emotional hoarding of stuffed animals.  I wonder if my students, who seem to find it hard to concentrate on anything these days, will have trouble following everything that goes on. 
What I really think: There is a lot of interesting information about the production of The Nutcracker, and I always have a few students who are involved in that, and no books except for Adrian's Nutcracked. I also really appreciated the information about Cuban immigration, especially regarding dancers, and the short overview of US immigration policies in general. I will definitely purchase a copy.

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Just Right Jillian

Collier, Nicole D. Just Right Jillian
February 1st 2022 by Versify
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Jillian is very quiet and insecure, even though her parents are really supportive. Her mother, who suffers from lupus, even runs empowerment workshops for women! Jillian is also still grieving for her grandmother, with whom she was very close, who passed away almost a year ago. School is especially difficult. Jillian doesn't have anyone to whom she feels close, and while she understands the importance of fitting in with the clothing and hair styles of other fifth graders (boring colors, simple hair dos, and strict adherence to an unspoken weekly schedule), she doesn't like it. Still, she is too shy to speak up. Even though she is very bright, she doesn't want to participate in the Mind Bender competition that the school holds as a review replacement for standardized testing. Since Rashida won last year, as a fourth grader, Jillian is sure that she will win again, so it's senseless for her to try. Still, she is trying to speak up more as a way to honor her grandmother's memory. Jillian also wove a lot of items with her grandmother, but hasn't worked on her craft in the last year. When she finally talks to her teacher about participating in the Mind Bender, her teacher is supportive, but lots of things get in the way. She is glad to make friends with Marquez, who sticks up for her and on whom she has a little crush, and the more she gets involved with school, the more she realizes that Rashida is actually rather nice. A bad cold causes her to do poorly in the preliminary round for the Mind Bender, although she makes the cut to go on. When her mother's lupus flares up and Jillian wants to go to the hospital with her, she misses the round before the final one. She's given the opportunity to try to get a retake, but it involves asking a lot of teachers at school if she can have a re-do. Will Jillian be able to channel her grandmother's enthusiasm and outspoken qualities in order to try for something she really wants?
Strengths: My favorite part of this was the coping strategies Jillian uses when she feels out of control in the situation. Biting the back of her tongue in order to be still, using a "neutral face" when things are uncomfortable; these are helpful for just about everyone. It's good to see depictions of children missing grandparents, since that's an unfortunate loss that many students face. I was also glad to see a classroom that was very interested in academics, where the most accomplished student is also the most popular. Young readers will be amused by Jillian's different fashions, and interested in all of the different things she does with her hair. While Jillian is a very anxious character, she is really trying to work in a positive direction, and utilizing solid coping skills. 
Weaknesses: It seems unlikely that a school would be able to opt out of standardized testing, and even more unlikely that Jillian's teacher would make her ask all the other teachers for special permission to re do the Mind Bender qualifying round. Of course, I don't work in an elementary school, but I can't see this happening in middle school. Young readers will not be bothered by this.
What I really think: Just Right Jillian reminds me a lot of Allen's Mya Tibbs, if Mya had an anxiety disorder. Same supportive family, same quirky sense of fashion, and same desire to get things done. This is another good series for elementary schools, like Draper's Sassy, Brown's Lola Levine, and Barrows' Ivy and Bean

 Ms. Yingling

Friday, January 28, 2022

The Keeper

McCall, Guadalupe Garcia. The Keeper
January 25th 2022 by HarperCollins
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

James and Ava move from Texas to a small town in Oregon with their parents. The parents are thrilled, especially since the mother has a job as a professor, and they have a big house in a beautiful area. Even the neighbors are super nice, starting a fire and stocking the fridge with groceries before they arrive. James misses his friends and the Texas sun, and is still grieving the death of his beloved grandmother (Ita) and feels somehow that the move is not honoring her memory and disconnecting him from his Mexican-American roots. He goes back and forth between arguing with his parents and feeling bad that he's not being a good kid. He also has an irritating relationship with Ava, where they play annoying pranks on each other. He puts her doll in the Crock Pot; she fills his baseball glove with petroleum jelly. They also fight over their dog, Baxter. When James gets weird letters from someone signed "The Keeper", he thinks it is another of Ava's pranks. The tension of this mystery builds until creepy neighbors
Strengths: Well, I guess I can't take cookies to new neighbors any more! James' anger and sadness at being relocated, his troubled relationship with his sister, and his distrust of the neighbors set the scene well for a surprising turn of events that speaks to many of our worst nightmares. It's hard to write a review, because I don't want to spoil any of that. The Mexican-American culture was interesting, and there was a lot of Spanish mixed in, which was interesting when James and Ava used it with the new children they meet who didn't share their background. I did enjoy the fact that after a bumpy start, the neighborhood kids were nice and invited James to play baseball with them. I also really liked the parents, with their movie nights and their high expectations for behaviour. The horror part of this was quite well done. 
Weaknesses: The scary parts were good, but came a bit late. I wish that the cover were a bit different. It's lovely, but not scary to 8th graders. Maybe just the house, without the kids? I find that horror books with a cartoon-style of illustration don't get picked up as readily as the work of Joel Sutherland or K.R. Alexander
What I really think: This was someone similar to Ockler's The Smashed Man of Dread End or Lawrence's The Stitchers, or even Ellen Oh's Spirit Hunters. I really liked the use of local legends and the Mexican-American culture, but I wish this had gotten to the well-written horror scenes much sooner. 

Leila Roy at Bookshelves of Doom loved this one a LOT, and she's a better judge of horror than I am. 

Thursday, January 27, 2022

The Hideaway

Smy, Pam. The Hideaway
September 9th 2021 by Pavilion Children's
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Billy has had enough. Five years of living with his mother's boyfriend Jeff and watching him beat her up is enough. He packs his bag, and runs off to the cemetery on All Soul's Lane on Halloween. Having been there on a school trip, he plans to stay and sleep in a small mausoleum that he calls the Pillbox for a couple of days. He doesn't have much of a plan; he just needs to get out. Also told from his mother Grace's point of view, we see her anguish at his disappearance, her fear of how Jeff will react, and her growing relationships with her once distant neighbors, who now rally around to support her and help find her son. Billy is a "good kid" who is never in trouble, keeps his room super neat, and does well in school. When Officer Choury investigates, she feels that there is information about the family dynamic that is going unsaid, and both she and a neighbor try to help her recognize her situation as domestic abuse and offer her alternatives. Billy meets an older man who is cleaning out the cemetery, and who helps him with food and a blanket. He promises not to tell about Billy for just a few days. Billy also meets a girl, Izzie, whom he knows from school. She also promises not to tell. As the days pass, Billy learns more information about the old man's family, and helps clean up the cemetery for a "big event". Officer Choury finds Billy's journal, which describes years of domestic abuse. Will this be enough to motivate the mother to press charges and make a new life for herself and Billy once he is found?

Accompanied by plentiful, atmospheric black and white illustrations, the graveyard setting offers an interesting foil to Billy's bleak existence. The reactions to the changing situations seem particularly raw and real; Billy has to get away, his mother his fearful for his whereabouts but even more fearful for herself, and Jeff's irritation is barely hidden. There is an interesting connection between Billy and the old man (who is not given a name) that comes out later in the book. 

Domestic abuse is a problem in many parts of the world, and the research into this that Smy did is evident. I liked that the police and neighbors were paying attention and not discounting Grace's experiences, or telling her just to sit tight. It wouldn't be a bad idea to have included a list of resources in the back for children who might need help in similar circumstances. 

This is a fantasy book; at one point, the cemetery and its ghostly inhabitants become a large part of the story, but I don't want to ruin how this happens! 

I have frequently voiced my concern about British parenting; there are any  number of UK imports with parents who struggle to take care of their children for a variety of reasons, from Cathy Cassidy's Dizzy (2004) and Indigo Blue (2006), to Crossan's Apple and Rain (2016) and Lewis' Scarlet Ibis (2018). This read a bit like Jacqueline Wilson meets Neil Gaiman. The Hideaway has a distinctly British feel and will be popular with readers who liked Thompson's The Light Jar, DeStefano's The Girl with the Ghost Machine, or Edge's The Many Worlds of Albie Bright.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Dream, Annie, Dream

 Brown, Waka T. Dream, Annie, Dream
January 25, 2022 by Quill Tree Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Aoi Inoue lives in Kansas in the 1980s. Her parents moved there from Japan, and her father is now the head of a math department at a small college. She and her best friend, Jessie (who now goes by Jessica), are spening the summer at a theater camp, and Aoi has decided to go by Annie, since people struggle so much with the pronunciation of her name. The camp is doing a production of Annie, and even though Annie is a better performer, the title role goes to Jessica, who "looks the part". Jessica's family is much better off, and her mother, while nice, pushes her daughter. Annie enjoys the production, and decides to continue with her acting, although her mother doesn't quite approve. When school starts, Annie struggles a bit in the classroom, especially in math with Mrs. Olds, who is old, strict, and doesn't make math fun. Annie struggles with some allergies to the family's cat, and ends up getting allergy shots, which cut into her schedule. She also joins the basketball team, which she enjoys. There is a plya put on with the high school, The King and I, and Annie gets a good role as dancer in an important scene, and does well. She also meets a high school boy who is half Japanese, and Annie's mother is glad to make friends with his mother. Jessica claims that Annie got the role only because she is Asian, and the girls' already fragile relationship starts to unravel. There are a number of microaggressions with which Annie has to deal at school, from Jessica's barbs, to Mrs. Olds' casual sexism, to a well liked teacher who doesn't correct a student who says disparaging things about Japan's involvement in World War II. When her class at school decides to put on the play Alice in Wonderland, and have a writing contest for the dramatization, Annie is thrilled, since she is always rereading the book. Jessica tells her she can't be Alice because she doesn't look the part. Will the school, and a visting Hollywood director, be more progressive?
Strengths: Friend drama is always a popular topic in middle grade books, and Jessica and Annie's fraught relationship will pull readers in. There are enough 80's details to put the societal and racial situation clear. Annie's family background was very interesting; her mother was a flight attendant who met her father when he was traveling to the US for school. There was an interesting dynamic with the father sending money home to Japan, and the mother not being too wild about it. Readers who want to read about theater will enjoy all of the machinations leading up to the various productions. There is a great note at the back about the problems of older plays which should be taken very seriously. Our local community theater put on a production of Oklahoma in the summer of 2021, and I was APPALLED. There should be a list of shows that everyone agrees should be either retired or completely reworked, and The King and I would definitely be right up there, along with Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Show Boat.
Weaknesses: While I understand that Mrs. Olds' was supposed to be a bad guy, her portrayal was odd and didn't make Annie seem sympathetic. Annie immediately dislikes her and describes her in a very harsh way, before Mrs. Olds' even does anything. Annie's poor grades are blamed on the teacher's racism and sexism, but Annie hasn't turned in a LOT of work. I could see the direction Brown was trying to take with this character, but it never gelled for me. It doesn't help that Annie would probably see me in the exact same light, with my (quotes from the E ARC) "faded, grayish brown curly cap of frizz", "drab "teacher clothes'", and my "prim collar buttoned all the way to the top, and even fastened with a cameo brooch to double/triple ensure that- God forbid- she show part of her neck. Her face was wrinkled, like an apple left out in the sun too long." There's nothing that I can do about the wrinkles in my face, but this doesn't automatically make me an evil, racist person.
What I really think: Theater books don't circulate well in my library at all, and this is a bit similar to Shang and Rosenberg's Not Your All-American Girl and Yamile's On These Magic Shores. I really liked this author's While I Was Away, but it also has not circulated as well as I would have liked, leading me to think that the cover art isn't too appealing.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

The Supervillain's Guide to Being a Fat Kid

Wallace, Matt. The Supervillain's Guide to Being a Fat Kid 
January 25th 2022 by Katherine Tegen Books

Max isn't hopeful that Captain Clobbertime Memorial Middle School will be any better than Glow Girl Elementary, but he and his best friend Luca are hopeful, especially when their first day starts with a girl offering them welcome cookies. Things quickly spiral downwards, however, when 8th grader Johnny "Pro" gets the two in his sights. Max is fat, and Luca's family struggles monetarily, which leads to many epithets being hurled their way, and even threats of physical violence. Max's mother doesn't understand, and his father isn't in the picture, so he takes great comfort in the supervillain Master Plan. Super heroes are often celebrate in the news, but Master Plan, aka Maximo Marconius, is sent to jail even though Max thinks his motivations are much more honorable than the heroes he fights. Max writes to him in jail, and eventually gets a cryptic e mail back offering help. As a larger an himself, Master Plan understands Max's plight, and offers more constructive help than Max has gotten from his mother, teachers, or friends. He takes self defense lessons for free from a former "villainy aid" of Master Plans, acts on the realistic fashion advice, and use the Roadrunner philosophy to get Johnny Pro to cause his own destruction. When a video of Johnny beating up Max and Luca goes viral, Max starts to get more positive attention and has enough confidence to enter a baking competition. All of this, especially his more confident attitude, brings him closer to Marina, the girl who gave him a cookie on the first day. She is also interested in baking, and her father is in jail for corporate crimes. How will Max handle it when the two go head to head in the baking competition, and Master Plan insinuates himself a little too much into Max's life?

There are not a lot of books with boys who struggle with their weight, and since public perception of this situation shifts over time, something like Robert Kimmel Smith's 1981 Jelly Belly has been irrelevant for a long time. I'm not sure that the treatment of children with weight issues is always as bad as Johnny Pro's treatment of Max, but it does give Max a nemesis to vanguish.  Mercado's graphic novel Chunky and Baron's All of Me are newer title that embraces current weight philosophies. I especially liked that this did not center on attempts to lose weight, but offered brief but effective ways for Max to be more comfortable and confident with his body the way he was.

Luca is a great friend, not only sticking up for Max, but also sharing in his problems. It was great to see his emotions regarding Max's changes. Marina and Max also had a good dynamic, and were able to bond over similarities in situations and personalities. Master Plan was a rather shady figure, but he was very helpful to Max-- exactly what one might imagine a super villain might be like! 

The super heroes and villains in Max's world aren't explained very much, but Master Plan is an interesting assistant for Max's changes. Readers who liked Boniface's Ordinary Boy, Carroll's The Awakening, Kraatz's Cloak Society and Moore's V is for Villain will find this added layer of fantasy a good addition, and can look forward to the somewhat similar world of heroes in Supertown (Kupperberg, February 2022). 

Most of all, the pragmatic suggestions for feeling more comfortable in clothes and with one's abilities makes The Supervillain's Guide to Being a Fat Kid a book that both informs and entertains.
Ms. Yingling

Monday, January 24, 2022

MMGM- The Way I Say It

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Tandon, Nancy. The Way I Say It
January 1st 2022 by Charlesbridge Publishing
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Rory is starting middle school, and dreading having to introduce himself because of his speech impediment. Despite being in speech therapy for years, he still pronounces his "r" like a "w". Some kids, especially Danny, make fun of him for it, but most of his fellow students don't give him a hard time. Jenna, especially, is always kind, and Rory kind of has a crush on her. The biggest problem is Brent, who used to be his friend until an unexplained rift opened between the two. Brent now hangs out with Danny, and constantly picks on his former best friend. Rory's mom makes Rory hang out with Brent and two other boys who were in preschool with him. Brent won't let up even in this situation, and leaves the gathering to ride bikes with his new friends. Unfortunately, he is hit by a car, and because he wasn't wearing a helmet, is gravely injured and put into a medically induced coma. He survives, but has a traumatic brain injury that leaves him with headaches, behavioral issues, and some anger management challenges. Rory has enjoyed working with the new speech teacher in the middle school, Mr. Simms, whose approach is quite different from the elementary speech teacher's, and he's been making progress. He's not happy when he finds that Brent will not only be working with Mr. Simms, but also that the two of them are working on a year long biography project together. Mr. Simms has suggested Muhammad Ali, who faced many challenges as well. Rory's mother is constantly having him visit Brent to help him recuperate, and Rory is not happy with this. We aren't told what the boys' fight was about, but it looms large. We also don't find out why Danny is so insistent on bugging Rory, and Rory unfortunately pokes back at Danny by making fun of the job his mother has as a cleaner at the hospital. As the year progresses, Rory makes progress on his speech, Brent recovers slowly from his injury, and the two are able to restore their friendship a bit. 
Strengths: There have been a few books recently about speech issues, and this is good to see. It breaks my heart to see students get all the way to middle school with unresolved speech issues, since I worked very hard with one of my own children on the exact issue Rory faced; luckily this was resolved by about third grade. The details of therapy and speech exercises were just enough. I loved the supportive parents, the reasonable teachers and librarian, and the effective Mr. Simms, who connected with Rory about guitar playing and heavy metal music. The idea of children being friends because their parents are needs to be explored a LOT more in middle grade fiction! Jenna was a fantastic character, and it was very realistic that both she and Rory claimed to be "just friends" while both of them felt a little more. The cards and small gifts exchanges are so painfully true to life! The relationship with Brent, and Rory's reaction to the accident are troubling, but also understandable. I don't think Rory was heartless in his reaction; the reaction is tempered because there are so many competing emotions that sometimes eleven year olds aren't quite sure how to react. In general, this was a well paced book with several interesting problems that will appeal to many readers. 
Weaknesses: I've read a few middle grade books, and far too many of them start at the beginning of the school year and work to the end and have bullies. Young readers won't be tired of these tropes, but I'm especially tired of bullies. This book would have been stronger without the tension with Danny, and if Brent and Rory had been cooly civil to each other. 
What I really think: Definitely purchasing and will also recommend to our school speech and language pathologist along with Lupica's Batting Order, Frazier's Mighty Inside, Rutter's The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh, Baptist's The Swag is in the Socks, and Naylor's Going Where It's Dark

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Beginning Reader Dog Books

Winston, Sherri. Catastrophe: Wednesday and Woof #1
April 5th 2022 by HarperCollins
E Book versions out now
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Walia Nadir and her dog Woof have formed the Wednesday Detective Society, spurred on by her admiration of her Aunt Nalia, who is a detective in their Michigan town. Woof is Walia's assistance dog and helps her navigate the world with Juvenile Arthritis. This doesn't slow Walia down much, but her parents are often concerned that she is overdoing it and not getting enough rest. When Mrs. Winter's cat, Autumn, goes missing, the two are on the case. It's not easy to solve, but they gather clues, deal with the obnoxious bully Anita, skateboarding boys, and eventually are able to save the day. What will their next adventure be?

Walia is a fun character who provides us witha great deal of information about her condition, but this is delivered in support of the plot instead of in info dumps. I can't think of another book character who faces the same medical challenge. Her friend Belinda, her supportive parents, and her grandfather all give her help and good advice. I wasn't as big a fan of the nasty Anita, who made fun of Walia's need for a support animal.

There's a good mix of pleasant illustrations (which will be in full color in the final edition) and a comfortable amount of text, making this a great choice for strong first grade readers, but with enough engaging details to delight older elementary school students as well. There are a few supplemental activities at the back of the book.

Fans of Winston's own Jada Sly, Butler's fun Kayla and King, Sobol's classic Encyclopedia Brown, and the various younger permutations of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys will enjoy this beginning reader neighborhood mystery series. The next book, New Pup on the Block, will be published in April, 2022.

Butler, Dori Hillestad. Dear Beast: Simon Sleeps Over
February 8th 2022 by Holiday House
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

In this early chapter book, we meet Andy, whose parents are not together. He has a pet dog, Baxter, at his mother's house, and a pet cat, Simon, at his father's. When his mother goes out of town on business, Andy and Baxter (aka Beast) have to sleep over at his father's. Simon is kept in the basement so that the two pets can be introduced to each other slowly. Simon starts a correspondence with Beast, telling him the proper way to do things. In order to make amends, Beast leaves liver treats along with his notes, but Simon claims not to like these. The two have an adversarial relationship, but slowly warm to each other. Their reactions to a terrible storm help solidify their friendship. Correspondence from other creatures in the area, such as Cheeks the squirrel, Stinky the Skunk, and Bubbles the fish is included as well. 

Beast's grammar and spelling are not as good as Simon's, but his enthusiasm for his significant life change is good to see. Simon is curmudgeonly and catlike, so is not enjoying being kept in the basement, liver treats or no! 

The letter format might encourage younger readers to start writing notes and letters of their own, and it would be delightful if they aslo illustrated their epistles. Atteberry's illustrations show a great range of amusing facial expressions on the pets, and are in full color. I love the pops of teal, mauve, and apple green. 

Beast's spelling difficulties are given an entire glossary at the back of the book as a "Doggy Dictionary", which seems a bit unusual for a beginning reader book. Beginning readers might be interested in correcting Beast's spelling, and the phonetic spellings might be easier for them. 

Animal stories are always popular with younger readers, and this book will appeal to reader who enjoyed Cronin's Chicken Squad, DiCamillo's Mercy Watson, Elliott's Owl Diaries and Messner's Ranger in Time, as well as this author's own Kayla and King series.

Ms. Yingling

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Rube Goldberg and His Amazing Machines

Snider, Brandon T. Rube Goldberg and His Amazing Machines
November 16th 2021 by Harry N. Abrams
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Rube is starting middle school, and is excited to hear that Principal Kim is having a Contraption Convention. Since Rube is an aspiring young inventor, he thinks this is an auspicious start. He needs this, especially after he and his best friend, Boob (whose real name is Bob), get off to a rocky start and are escorted to their first day by Officer Bacon. While he's excited about the contest at first, and hopes to work with Boob and Pearl, there's a lot going on in Rube's life that interferes with his creativity. His father is often gone, and his grandmother is not able to pick up all of the slack. Rube is anxious about a lot of things, and manages to alienate his friends. Will he be able to overcome his challenges and use his inventing capabilities to save the day?

Quirky and pell mell in style, this would be a good choice for fans of Pastis' Timmy Failure, Parisi's Marty Pants, and Patterson's jimmy books. The illustration style was somewhat similar to Seegert and Martin's Sci Fi Junior High, and had a definite MAD Magazine feel to it, although since publication of that satirical periodical ceased in 2019, this is not a selling point to younger readers. 

There is lots of middle grade humor in this-- Rube and Boob are accused of being perverts shouting "butts", there are sneezes that coat others in mucus, and there's a teacher with an unfortunate toupee. Interspersed with this are more serious issues about families, relationships with friends, and the pressures of school projects. It's good to see that Rube has some friends, even if he has some difficulties with them, and that they share his scientific interests. 

While this is an illustrated novel, it is much lighter on illustrations than many notebook novels, and the text is very small for this type of book. Still, readers who want a heaping dose of science and invention with their humor (or who might be looking for ideas for their own Invention Conventions!) will find Rube's challenges very interesting. Hand this to readers who enjoyed Scieszka and Biggs' Frank Einstein series, Clements' Jake Drake Books, Nye and Mone's Jack and the Geniuses, and Short's Maggie and Nate Mysteries

Not quite sure about this one. I think I will give the copy to one of my fervent notebook novel readers to see if I should add this to the collection. The print is REALLY dense, and I'm not sure my notebook novel fans will be willing to pick this one up. 

Friday, January 21, 2022

Guy Friday- Nelson Mandela

Isdahl, Nansubuga Nagadya and Miles, Nicole. Nelson Mandela (First Names)
September 28th 2021 by Harry N. Abrams
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Born in 1918 in Transkei, South Africa, Nelson Mandela was raised in a way that will seem very unusal to modern US students. Even though he was born into the royal Thembu family, his early years (when he went by his birth name of Rolihlahla) were spent in a very rural environment and he worked watching animal herds. When he was seven, his family sent him off to be educated in a Western style school, where his name was changed and he was forced to adopt British conventionalities. He was adopted after the death of his father by Jongintaba, the ruler of the Thembu people, where he was exposed to a more opulent lifestyle, although he still had chores to do. During college, he came to find out more about the way that Black people were unfairly treated in South Africa, and after joining the Student Representative Council, he became interested in politics and civil rights. He fought against the Pass Laws of the 1940s and eventually studied law, working with a firm that represented Black people, something that was very rare at the time. He married and had children, but his family life suffered as he devoted more and more time to civil rights issues. This work lead to his arrest and eventual imprisonment, starting in 1964. Undaunted, he continued his work with his second wife, Winnie, from jail. He was finally set free in 1990 and was elected as the first Black president of South Africa in 1994. He won a Nobel Peace Prize for his work, and is an example of the power of staying with ones convictions. 

While the cover of this book looks like it will be a simple, illustrated read, this book was packed with facts and information about Mandela and the history of South Africa's racial divide. There are plentiful illustrations, although not a single photograph, and the glossary, time line, and selected bibliography round out the book. 

I was surprised at how much background and history was included in this book. Most of the biographies of Mandela I have seen focused more on just what happened to him, and didn't describe the cultural and historical background that was so important to his life and work. 

Readers who enjoy biographies like Patrick's Lewis Latimer from the HarperCollins' Hidden Heroes series or Blas's Who Was the Voice of the People: Cesar Chavez enjoy the mix of line illustrations and in depth discussions of important topics that accompany this biography. I would love to see more biographies like the one about Latimer, about whom little else has been written. The First Names series includes titles about Harry Houdini, Amelia Earhart, Ada Lovelace, and Ferdinand Magellan, but I am hoping that a biography series will eventually include lesser known Black historical figures such as Pastor Hiram Revels, Oscar Robertson, Margaret Murray Washington, and Flemmie Kittrell.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Riley's Ghost

Anderson, John David. Riley's Ghost
January 11th 2022 by Walden Pond Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

N.B. This is one of those books that is kind of hard to review because I don't want to give anything away!

Riley has had a hard time in middle school, and it doesn't help that her parents are very busy and she frequently has to spend a lot of time at home alone. Her mother is a nurse, and her father is a train engineer who is frequently gone. She had managed to hang on through middle school while she hada best friend, Emily, but when Emily tires of Riley's impulsive, sometimes embarassing behavior, Riley is alone. She takes refuge in the library, where the librarian, Mrs. Grissolm, lets her help process books, eat M&Ms, and stay until 5:30. On one day, as she is leaving school late, she runs into Emily with her new friends. They are unhappy about an incident earlier in the day where Riley got a boy in trouble when he put a dissection frog against her face, and the group locks her in a storage room after Riley stands up for herself. She is frantic, and once she gets out and fails to make contact with anyone outside school, she starts to worry. But she is not alone. She is helped (and frightened!) by the ghost of the frog from science class, who turns out to be Max. Max had a heart attack in his 40s, but had attended Riley's school, and his ghost is stuck there for some reason. This is most likely because of his relationship with Heather, who had many personality traits in common with Riley, had a horrendously awful middle school experience that Max didn't help with, and died at a young age. Her ghost is also threatening Riley. How will these ghosts, as well as the ghosts of Riley's own past, help Riley to make peace with her present?
Strengths: Riley's personality is on trend with having characters with more complex and challenging traits. For example, when she pulls the fire alarm, it is the third time she has done it. She is frequently in the principals' office for various offenses. She is picked on, but stands up for herself, which sometimes ends with her decking another student, stabbing someone's hand with a sharp pencil, or pouring a full plate of spaghetti on someone's lap. Anderson does a particularly good job at using upper middle grade language, things like "hell" and "Jesus", which is coarse but not as offensive as it could be. Riley is frequently home alone, something which is very common for middle school students.  The ghost part of the story is fairly scary. The friend drama is also on point, and we're now seeing about as many books from both sides of friendship issues-- the friends who are embarassing and left behind, and the friends who move on. Max and Heather's relationship mirrors Riley and Emily's nicely. The theme of supporting each other is a good one, and similar to this author's Posted. Of course, librarians everywhere will award this one bonus points for the fabulous Mrs. Grissolm.
Weaknesses: This was rather unrelentingly sad. Riley's own experiences were just fraught, and she had so few resources to help her cope, and the ghosts had even more problems. It made me feel... icky and unsettled when I read it. Will this instead make students feel better about their own lives? 
What I really think: This was more like Granted, Finding Orion, or Last Shot than Ms. Bixby's Last Day or The Dungeoneers. I'm impressed with Anderson's range and his creativity in developing innovative story lines. I do wish his books were a bit shorter, so that more students would pick them up. This one might be a challenge for some readers because of the constant flashbacks to the past.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Piece by Piece: The Story of Nisrin's Hijab

Huq, Priya. Piece by Piece: The Story of Nisrin's Hijab
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central
November 16th 2021 by Harry N. Abrams 

 Nisrin and her Bangladeshi family live in Oregon in 2002 in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. There isn't a huge Muslim community there, but they do have a good network of friends and family. When Nisrin wears a hijab to school to illustrate her cultural background for a world cultures day, she is attacked. This is very traumatic for her, and despite the support she recieves, she withdraws. When school starts in the fall, she decides to wear the hijab full time. Her mother is especially concerned about this, since she herself doesn't wear the traditional garment in order to "fit in" at work. She is given a very hard time about her choice, from the gym teacher, from fellow students, and from people who think she is wearing it because her father told her to. Instead, she wears it because she feels a need to represent her culture. As the school year progresses, she manages to make a new friend, but additional trauma from her past surfaces as well. The family's time in Bangladesh was marked by a lot of violence, and a bit of this history is covered in Nisrin's story. Will Nisrin be able to reconcile her past with her present problems in order to move forward in the future?

Given the large number of immigrants from a large numbers of countries, there are not as many stories for young readers about different cultures as there should be. The only other story about Bangladeshis that I can think of is Samira Surfs (Guidroz 2021), and the only other graphic novel with a hijabi main character is Fahmy's 2021 Huda F Are You?. It's good to see this representation.

This is a complicated story that deals with a lot of historical context that young readers should know about. The partitioning of India after World War II, its effects on Bangladesh, and the unreasonable hatred Muslims in the US faced after the 9/11 attacks are all critical and underserved events.

Nisrin's emotional upheaval is dealt with in a constructive way, and there is a lot to process. While her decision to wear the hijab is not an easy one, she has a lot of trauma from her past that ust be dealt with. The dark, hectic quality of the illustrations supports Nisrin's emotional state, and it's good to see a lighter, happier quality to the pictures at the end of the book. There is a nice Guide to Bangladesh at the end.

It's important to see a variety of stories about young Muslim girls and their decision about wearing a hijab or not. There are a few of these out there,starting with the Australian Does My Head Look Big in This? (2007, Abdel-Fattah) and continuing with the British You're Not Proper (Mehmoud, 2015), The Garden of My Imaan (Zia, 2013), All-American Muslim Girl (Courtney, 2019) and Barakah Beats (Siddiqui, 2021). This is a great addition to these books and will be popular with middle school and high school readers.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Fantasy Tuesday- The Way to Rio Luna

Córdova, Zoraida. The Way to Rio Luna 
June 2nd 2020 by Scholastic Inc.
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Danny Monteverde has had a rough life. He and his older sister Pili have spent many years in foster care, and she has always taken care of him when the placements were rough. The two shared a love of a book called The Way to Rio Luna, and would imagine their life there. When Pili goes missing, everyone is sure she has run away, but Danny knows better. He goes from family to family, most of which are unpleasant, and is currently in a family with two boys who treat him badly. The father even throws away his book, which devastates him. On a class field trip to a museum, he finds out that the book is rare and valuable, and when it magically appears in his back pack AND his sister's name is on the borrower's card, he makes the decision to run away from the field trip and try to find out more. Aided by Glory, who is cared for by Auntie North, who is an archaeologist, he finds out that the magic in the book is real. Soon, the two are on a quest that takes them to many places, from New York to Ecuador to Brazil. Will Danny be able to find his sister, and trust in the magic of Rio Luna to put everything to rights? 

One of our 6th grade teachers had a unit on the hero's journey, and this would be a great book for that. While Danny's experience in foster care seems a bit unrealistically harsh (hopefully!), this background paves the way for him to set forth on his own without regret. Finding his sister, and helping Rio Luna along the way, is a great quest. 

There are a wide variety of different characters from the book that he gets to meet, like the Moon Witch and Llwelyn, a jackalope, and the travels are interesting and well described. Glory and Auntie North are interesting characters, and help Danny out in many ways. I was a little unsure what archaeology the aunt did, but it's always a career of interest to young readers. 

Readers who believe they can be sucked into fairy tales for rollicking adventures, and who have sped through like Buckley's The Sister's Grimm, Colfer's Land of Stories, de la Cruz's Never After: The Thirteenth Fairy or Durst's Into the Wild will enjoy Danny's entry into the fantastical world of Rio Luna. 

This was not one of my favorites. The depiction of foster care was problematic, and I couldn't pin down the inspiration behind the world of Rio Luna. Was it based on a particular culture? It was all over the place, and I was particularly thrown by Ollie Oshiro, of the Kohlrabi Court. The author seems to write mainly young adult, and I think it's particularly difficult to switch from that age range to middle grade. Younger readers may not mind, and the pomeranian on the cover might make this more appealing. 

Monday, January 17, 2022

MMGM- Hardcourt: Stories from 75 Years of the National Basketball Association

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Bowen, Fred. Hardcourt: Stories from 75 Years of the National Basketball Association
January 18th 2022 by Margaret K. McElderry Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

I'm a HUGE Fred Bowen fan, and I always learn something about sports from any book of his I read. I'm still trying to process that there is an American Basketball Association in addition to the NBA, and the fact that there is apparently a real team called the New Orleans Pelicans. Reading Hardcourt made me realize that I know even less about basketball than I know about football!

Like Mr. Bowen's Gridion, this is a beautifully illustrated, larger format (11"x 11") book that would look great on a coffee table, or displayed on a shelf next to trophies. It's also hugely informative, laying out the history of the game of basketball and chronicles the changes made in it over the years. Starting with James' Naismith's creation of the game, we see how time and social changes contribute to the way the game is structured today. I hadn't realized that while the game has been around since the late 1800s, it didn't really take off until well after World War II, and had a hard time getting fans during a time when baseball was the preferred sport. 

While the majority of the players today are Black (almost 75%), when the National Basketball Association started out in 1946, it was entirely white. There were many teams in other leagues that were all Black. By 1950, the Boston Celtics drafted Chuck Cooper, and Earl Lloyd and Sweetwater Cliftion also signed on. There was relatively little controversy over this move, perhaps because basketball was not as much in the limelight as baseball. 

The book is divided into four quarters, and discusses the various changes made over the years, including things about points and clocks that I didn't even try to understand, but which my students will avidly discuss. Major players during the ascendancy of basketball's popularity in the 1970s and 80s, such as Wilt Chamberlain (1936-1999), Majic Johnson, and Larry Bird, are familiar names to me, while players since 2000 will resonate more with my students. The 1992 Olympic "Dream Team" is also discussed at length, although I still want to know why pros were allowed in the Olympics. 

There's a bit about the American Basketball Association, which was active for around a decade in the 1960s and 70s and made a comeback in the 2000s. It's apparent a semi-professional league, but I have no idea what this means, and still don't quite believe it exists. The list of the founding year of the NBA teams at the end of the book is very helpful, but I also have my doubts about the existance of the New Orlean Pelicans. My brother watched football when I was growing up, but apparently basketball has not entered my consciousness at all, because I'm even a bit doubtful about the Denver Nuggets, whom the book says have existed since 1976.

Ransome's illustrations are colorful and vibrant, and the book design showcases these nicely against the easy to read text. Both this and Gridiron would be excellent gifts for a young sports fan, and throwing in a couple of Bowen's fiction books would make an excellent package! (Ooh. Or a gift basket, with a ball. Keep that in mind for school auctions.)

If your sports knowledge is roughly equivalent to mine and you work with young sports enthusiasts, it's imperative that you read Hardcourt and buy it for any elementary or middle school library in your charge. If you haven't looked into Bowen's fiction, this is my occasional reminder that you need to gradually replace all of your crumbling Matt Christopher titles with Bowen's work. 

Interview with the Fantastic Fred Bowen!

Ms. Yingling: You’ve written a number of fictional basketball titles, including the fantastic Hardcourt Comeback, as well as the informative Gridiron: Stories from 100 Years of the National Football League. What’s your personal connection to basketball? Do you think basketball is more popular than football in the US, or the other way around?

Mr. Bowen: Thanks for the kind words about my books.  Hardcourt: Stories From 75 Years of the National Basketball Association is my 27th sports book for young readers.  I am proud of all of them.  Now to your questions.

The National Football League (NFL) and professional football is the most popular sport in the United States by several metrics.  The National Basketball Association (NBA) is, I believe, more popular on an international scale.

As for my personal connection to basketball, I played throughout my youth on various teams as I grew up.  My problem was that I didn’t grow up fast enough.  I was 4’ 11” and 92 pounds at the beginning of the ninth grade (yes, they measured us) and I failed to make the school team.  I also got cut from the high school varsity team two years later.

These disappointments, however, did not hold back my love of the game (I also grew to be almost 6-feet tall).  I played on teams and in leagues as well as on playgrounds until I was 40-years-old.  In my sleep, I still dream of playing the game.

Ms. Yingling: Can you explain briefly the difference between the NBA and the various incarnations of the ABA for those of us who were not aware there were two leagues at different points in history?

Mr. Bowen: As Hardcourt indicates, the NBA started in the 1946-47 season.  By 1967, the league had ten teams (there are now 30).  The American Basketball Association (ABA) started as a separate, competing league in the 1967-68 season with 11 teams.  Chapter 7 of Hardcourt describes some of the ups and downs of the league as well as the great (and not so great, but very colorful) players in the league.

The ABA lasted nine seasons.  Many teams were founded and many folded.  Prior to the 1976-77 season four of the remaining seven ABA teams - the New York Nets, San Antonio Spurs, Denver Nuggets and Indiana Pacers – merged with the NBA.

One story I did not include in Hardcourt because it is mostly about finance is the incredible story of the Silna brothers.  The Silnas owned the Spirits of St. Louis, an ABA team, at the time of the merger with the NBA.  Instead of taking a buyout of two or three million dollars to fold their team as other ABA owners did, the Silnas negotiated a deal in which they received a very small percentage of the television revenues of the league.  At the time, very few NBA games were on TV.  But some years after the deal, the popularity of the NBA exploded and hundreds of games were shown every season. 

It is estimated the Silnas made somewhere between $300 and $800 million under the deal.  That is a lot of money for not owning a team!


Ms. Yingling: Basketball was invented a long time before the NBA came around. What effect did having a national organization have on the game? Why did it take until the 1950s for basketball to really come into the national interest?

Mr. Bowen: Actually, it took much longer.  One of the surprising things about researching Hardcourt was discovering (or rediscovering) how small-time the NBA was for much of its early years.  For example, in 1961 there were only eight NBA teams.  The 1980 NBA Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers with such legendary stars as Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Julius “Dr. J” Erving was not televised during prime time.  The games were shown on tape delay after the late local news.

My father told the story that as a businessman in Boston he was approached to invest in the Boston Celtics around 1950.  When I asked why he didn’t, he looked at me and said, “they didn’t make a profit for years.  It would have been like investing in the circus.”  It probably would have been worse.  The circus was pretty popular back then.

Ms. Yingling: There’s always so much interest in Jackie Robinson and the integration of Black players into baseball, but there are some fascinating stories about early Black basketball players. Why do you think these stories aren’t as well known?

Mr. Bowen: Basketball was simply not as central a part of the American sports experience as baseball was in the 1940s and 1950s.  Baseball was the most popular team sport in the country by far in those days.  So Major League Baseball integrating was a big story in 1947 when Robinson played for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

When the NBA integrated in 1950 with Chuck Cooper, Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton and Earl “Big Cat” Lloyd, few people noticed because few people were following the NBA.  Those early Black players, however, led the way to such all-time greats as Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Elgin Baylor and Oscar Robertson as well as modern stars such as LeBron James and Stephen Curry.

Ms. Yingling: Basketball seems to have more iconic players than football. Who would be the three most important but possibly underrated players that young readers should know about (and librarians should have biographies of)?

Mr. Bowen: That’s a hard question.  One of the things the NBA has done to celebrate its 75th season is to name the 75 greatest NBA players.  So there have been a lot of great players.  I will talk about three. (Here's the link:

Researching Hardcourt reminded me what a big star Bob Cousy was in the early days of the NBA.  Cousy was only 6’1” but was a wizard with the basketball, dribbling through his legs, passing behind his back and doing a million things that are common today but unheard of in the 1950s and 60s.  They called Cousy the “Houdini of the Hardwood.”

Bill Russell was the greatest winner in the history of team sports in the United States.  His Boston Celtics won 11 NBA titles from 1957 to 1969. 

What makes Russell a great story for kids is that when he was a sophomore in high school Russell tried out for his school’s junior varsity.  Sixteen kids tried out for the team and the school had only fifteen uniforms.  The coach did not have the heart to cut one kid.  So he went to his worst player – Bill Russell – and said he could stay on the team but would have to share a uniform with another player. 

Half of the games Russell sat on the bench in his uniform while the other half he sat on the bench in his street clothes.  Russell, however, got better.  A lot better.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was one of the greatest basketball players of all time.  He won 3 NCAA titles at UCLA, 6 NBA titles and is the all-time leading scorer in NBA history.  But the reason I admire Abdul-Jabbar is that he has done so much after his basketball career.  He is a political activist, historian and author.  Abdul-Jabbar is a good example of someone who is more than “just an athlete.”

Ms. Yingling: There are so many interesting topics briefly discussed in Hardcourt that would make excellent middle grade nonfiction titles. The 1992 Olympic Dream Team and the Harlem Globetrotters are both fascinating, but there don’t seem to be many books for middle grade readers. What are some other topics that deserve books of their own?

Mr. Bowen: One topic that I did not know much about before I started researching Hardcourt was that there was a World Professional Basketball Championship played each year from 1939 to 1948.  The best professional teams, both Black teams and White teams, competed for the title.  The Harlem Globetrotters, for example, won the tournament in 1940.

This forgotten era of early professional basketball might be an interesting topic for a book.

Ms. Yingling: Would you ever consider writing a historical novel about a sport, like Yep’s Dragon Road? This would be a great way to get sports fans to read historical fiction. What era would you be most likely to pick if you did write one?

Mr. Bowen: I am flattered you think I could write historical fiction.  Maybe I will give it a try one day.  Most of my reading is in American history so I have a background in many historical eras.

Some of my favorite time periods to read about include the 1930s when the U.S. was going through the greatest economic challenge of its history – The Great Depression.  I am also fascinated with the 1960s when the country was trying to find its way through the Civil Rights movement as well as the protests surrounding the Vietnam War.

Ms. Yingling: While this history isn’t part of the NBA, women were involved in the sport very early on. Why was basketball deemed more “suitable” for women? It even shows up in Jessie Grace Flower’s 1911 Grace Harlow’s Sophomore Year in High School and other literature of the time. 

Mr. Bowen: Basketball was supposed to be a “non-contact” sport.  After all, one of Dr. Naismith’s original 13 rules for the sport was that there should be “no shouldering, holding, pushing, tripping, or striking in any way the person of an opponent . . . .”  Perhaps that is why the game was considered more “suitable” for women.

Women often played a toned-down version of the game.  For years, many women in high schools and colleges played a game called “6 on 6” basketball in which three players only played on offense and three players only played on defense and no player ran the whole court.  That version of the game was played in high schools in Iowa and Oklahoma into the 1990s.

I discuss the 6 on 6 game more fully in my Fred Bowen Sports Story series book Off the Rim.

Now women play a very high level of the game in high school, colleges and the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA).  I often joke that nothing has improved during my lifetime as much as restaurant food and women’s basketball.

Ms. Yingling: What projects are you considering next? Will we be seeing more of your Soccer Mystery series, or maybe a book on the history of baseball or soccer in the U.S.?

Mr. Bowen: My next book will be part of my Fred Bowen Sports Story series.  Those are 25 books that combine sports fiction, sports history and always have a chapter of sports history in the back.  The new book is about basketball and is called Off the Bench.  It is scheduled to be published in the Spring of 2023. 

I also am scheduled to write a baseball book in the series for 2024 and a football book for 2025.

I have actually written a history of baseball for young readers but my editor for Hardcourt and Gridiron thinks there are too many baseball books.  So I may have to find another publisher for that book.

My plan is to write Fred Bowen Sports Story and sports history books as long as I enjoy writing them and as long as kids enjoy reading them. 

I'm certainly glad to hear that! If you have not investigated Mr. Bowen's work, make it a New Year's Goal to read at least one of his books in 2022!