Monday, February 07, 2022

MMGM- Speak Up, Speak Out! and Wayward Creatures

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Bolden, Tonya. Speak Up, Speak Out! The Extraordinary Life of "Fighting Shirley Chisholm" 
January 4th 2022 by National Geographic Kids
Copy provided by Media Masters Publicity and Young Adult Books Central

If you work with middle school students, you NEED this 132 page biography (page count is important!) of the spirited and influential Chisholm. I'm surprised that this has no reviews on Goodreads and that I haven't seen it all over social media. With the combination of Bolden's fantastic writing, a forward from Stacy Abrams, the timely topic of Blacks in the political landscape and the start of Black History Month, eveyrone should know about this new book!

While I'm not usually a fan of books that start with maps, the map of Modern Day Brooklyn was very instructional for me. While I've read a lot of books set in New York City, so many of the Brooklyn neighborhoods sounded familiar, I wasn't quite aware that... they were all in Brooklyn? This was just a great way to introduce me to the world that Chisolm represented, and being able to see the geography (so much coastline!), proximity to Manhattan, and different places where Chisholm lived was very helpful. 

Chisholm's family background, and her parent's immigration story, sets the stage for the environment in which she was raised. Born in 1924, and set to spend time with a grandmother in Barbados in 1928, Chisholm's life was shaped by the events of her times. However, she had a strong drive that propelled her to seek experiences outside of what was expected of women at that time. She attended college (although wasn't able to go as far as Oberlin or Vassar), started off pursuing a degree in education, but early on got interestested in politics. For a young Black woman in 1944 to get interested in politics? Wow. I can't imagine how many difficulties she would have faced. 

By the late 1950s, she was the director of a day care center and heavily involved in local politics. With her background, she knew that to make changes and to get the people of her community things that they needed, she would have to "make a lot of noise". She eventually became vice president of the Central Brooklyn Coordinating Council, and became the first Black woman elected to the New York State Assembly in 1964. She fought tremendous societal and personal challenges to become the first Black woman to win a congressional seat in 1968.

What stood out to me was how invested in the welfare of her constituents Chisholm won. It seems like many elected officials are involved in politics to forward their own agenda, but Chisholm really wanted to make positive changes for the people in her community. This is a great message for young readers today. If more politicians had this motivation, the world would certainly be a better place. 

Chisholm's story is an inspiring one. Bolden's concise and fast-paced writing, enlivened by a style that captures some of Chisholm's no nonsense rhetoric, brings to life a political figure everyone should know. There are pictures in the center of the book, although I wish that this had been a photobiography like National Geographic's Onward: A Photobiography of African-American Polar Explorer Matthew Henson by Dolores Johnson. Chisholm was a colorful character, and it's a shame that so few color pictures of her exist! This book is a must purchase for any middle school or public library. 

Lorentz, Dayna. Wayward Creatures
18 January 2022 by Clarion Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Gabe's family is struggling since his father lost his job and his mother went back to work full time. Gabe and his sister have to pick up some of the household chores and do more for themselves, often making mornings hectic. On top of that, middle school isn't going well, with Gabe's friends playing expensive elite soccer. When his friend Owen wants to hang out with new kid Taylor, Gabe is irritated, especially when Taylor calls attention to himself with bike tricks. The group stops at a convenience store before heading to a nearby park to ride bikes, and Gabe has an idea. He steals some fireworks, knowing that will bring him attention. Sadly, when he shoots some at Taylor, dry grass catches fire and the park quickly goes up in flames. Owen is nabbed by the police, and luckily no one is hurt. The park, however, is destroyed. Instead of a court, Gabe is bound over to a restorative justice program, which relieves his parents. The committee decides that Gabe has to pay for the fireworks and spend 40 hours of community service restoring the park. At first, Gabe feels this is unfair, since he didn't MEAN to do so much damage. He doesn't talk to his parents, eats in his room, and steers clear of everyone at school, especially Owen. In alternating chapters, we also see a young coyote, Rill, who is fed up with her parents and runs away. She is injured in the fire and hides in a cave. Gabe finds her while working to restore the park, and brings her food and water every day. Rill also meets Teeth, a possum, who promises to find her family in exchange for some of Gabe's food.  Gabe collects cans to earn money to pay for the fireworks, helps a man who lost a chicken coop in the fire build a new one, and builds some to earn more money. He enjoys helping clear brush and repair the park, and even brings maple saplings from home to replant. When Rill is eventually discovered, Gabe fights to have her healed and returned to the wild instead of being euthanized for being a nuisance animal. Will he be able to repair his home life and his relationship with his friends in the same way he is restoring the park?
Strengths: The only other book that I've seen feature restorative justice is Mikaelsen's Touching Spirit Bear (2001), which is a bit outdated. I liked how the idea was explained and then shown, with members of the community talking about how the fire affected them. Gabe's family struggles were interesting, and the one chaotic morning reminded me why I stand in the hallway every morning and greet students pleasantly-- you never know what their morning was like before they got to school. Friend drama with people pursuing different activities is also prevalent in the middle school setting, and I liked that Owen was sympathetically portrayed. The work on the park had a lot of nice STEM touches that could be used in science classes, and Rill's plight was described well. The cover of this is very appealing. 
Weaknesses: The parts of the book with Gabe's journey are so powerful that having to switch to Rill's character wasn't my favorite thing. I wish we had seen more of Gabe's experiences with people in school rather than his battle to save Rill. I don't think he could have spent the whole day in a stairwell avoiding people-- if a student like Gabe went missing at our school, we would have the police in, and absolutely tear the place up trying to find him! 
What I really think: Lorentz has written a variety of different types of books. Storm Dogs is still my favorite, but this is probably my second favorite. I will purchase, and see if teachers who studied Touching Spirit Bear in the past would want to change out that book for this one. 


  1. Shirley Chisholm sounds a remarkable lady, I'm not from the US but I can imagine how difficult it would have been for her to succeed. Gabe sounds an interesting character, but I am not sure about a book where POV switches between a kid and an animal. I haven't a good experience of reading similar stories! Sounds like Lorentz has done it well though. Thanks for the reviews!

  2. I remember when Shirley Chisholm was elected to congress in 1968. She certainly was a trailblazer and I'm glad to see this book about her. Remarkable for a Black woman! She really connected with her constituents. I graduated from HS in '69, and I remember how feminism was building and our theme song was Helen Reddy's "I Am Woman." Shirley inspired so many young Black women.
    What a great title on the second book. I haven't seen anything about restorative justice in MG or YA books. So many relationships to heal. I appreciated your thorough review, as this book really intrigues me! Thanks for sharing two great books today!

  3. Shirley Chisolm was a real powerhouse. I'm glad to see a good biography of her out there. Wayward Creatures sounds wonderful. I will be looking for a copy. Thanks for telling me about it.

  4. I may need to track down a copy of the first book—it's a good pick for Black History Month, and I really don't know enough about Shirley Chisholm! And Wayward Creatures sounds so powerful—the restorative justice element is really interesting, and Rill's perspective does sound intriguing (if a little distracting).

    (Also, I was scrolling through your Twitter gadget and saw your question about if an MG author could be on Fresh Air—Gordon Korman is a great pick! I feel like Rebecca Stead and Wendy Mass would also be good picks, personally.) Thanks so much for the wonderful reviews, Karen!