Monday, March 14, 2022

MMGM- Falling Short, A Rose Named Peace

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Cisneros, Ernesto. Falling Short
March 15th 2022 by Quill Tree Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Marco and Isaac have been best friends for year, and as 6th grade approaches, they have big plans. Marco, who excels academically, hopes to play basketball in order to attract the attention of his father, who doesn't visit much and who doesn't think he is "manly" enough. Isaac struggles with his school work, and hopes to be better at remembering to turn in assignments, hoping that this will cause fewer fights among his parents, who are getting divorced. Isaac's father is an alcoholic who can't be relied on to take care of Isaac or to be sober when he has to pick him up. Middle school gets off to a decent start, and Marco finds some new friends in his able and talented classes, classes Isaac is not in. Isaac finds some friends on the basketball team, but they are not always kind to Marco, who tends to rock his dweebishness without apology. The only class the two have together is gym, which includes the stressful locker room experience. Byron, who is a good basketball player, is particularly unkind, which eventually causes the coach to bar him from playing. 
Strengths: There are SO many middle grade books with parents and siblings who die, but really, the biggest issues that actual middle grade readers face are ones like affect Marco and Isaac. Parents have issues that affect them, like alcoholism or divorce. It's tough to balance school work and extracurriculars. Friendships shift, friends pursue other interests, and groups of friends don't always get along. Physical changes make it hard to just... navigate the world. Yet, these problems rarely make it into the literature. I get it. They are subtle problems that are harder to depict that the obvious trauma of death and loss. Cisneros clearly understands what 6th graders experience, and does a good job at incorporating things that actually occur in middle school, rather than things people did in middle school 30 years ago, like school elections and newspapers. There are still locker rooms, though no showers. Lunch time and choosing where to sit is a HUGE issue. Staying up late to do homework and then being tired in the morning is a problem. Even transportation back and forth from school can be a subject of stress. The best part of the book is that, despite all of the different stressors the boys experience, they manage to stay friends. That's a great message, and one that is very reassuring to readers. 
Weaknesses: Was this intramural basketball? I didn't think about it too closely. Basketball doesn't start at the beginning of the school year in Ohio, and 6th graders can't participate in school sports. I was also confused by the fact that Byron was able to go to another school and get on their team so quickly. Maybe things are different where Cisneros teaches, and I was willing to ignore this because I liked the story so much. 
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, although I sort of wish there had been a basketball on the cover and that the boys had been in 8th grade, so that older readers would find it more appealing. The height differences become even more pronounced by this age, and it would make more sense for them to be playing on a team. This is the sort of book I'll buy multiple copies of, and they will never make it back to the shelf because students will recommend the book to each other. Another great book from the author of Efren Divided

Roberts, Barbara Carroll and Ibatoulline, Bagram (illustrator).
A Rose Named Peace : How Francis Meilland Created a Flower of Hope for a World at War
April 12th 2022 by Candlewick Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In the early 1900s, Francis Meilland's family grew roses in the French countryside, and as a young boy, he was interested in how the different varieties were created. He had some ideas of his own, and spent years cross pollinating in order to grow a rose of his own. This took a lot of work, but eventually he came up with a rose that was a creamy yellow with red tipped petals. He managed to make contacts in different parts of the world and was selling his flowers to them. When war broke out in Europe, he was able to send many of his contacts cuttings of this new rose. Since he had to turn the family farm over to food production for a number of years, and the war cut off contact with the outside world, he had no idea what happened to the rose. Robert Pyle, a breeder in the US, filed a patent in Meilland's name even though he did not know his friend's fate. Meilland kept up a small plot of roses during the war, and when peace was finally declared, the rose caught on, and was given the name "Peace". It is now one of the most popular rose varieties in the world. 
Strengths: This is a beautiful and informative picture book. Ibatoulline's illustrations are beautiful, especially the views of the French countryside and the roses. There is just enough explanation of how roses are propagated to make sense even to very young readers without being overwhelming, and enough about the war to show how terrible it was without being traumatizing. Both topics require a delicate balance in a picture book treatment, and this was well done. The best part about this is that there is just the right amount of text for a read aloud, but plenty of information, and the pictures have plenty of details for pointing things out and discussing. It's been a while since I have read a picture book with a young person, but I remember those things being critical for read aloud success!
Weaknesses: There is no mention of Francis' mother, after whom the rose was originally named and who died at a young age. Meilland died at a young age as well. I would have rather had a few more biographical facts about Meilland, and some of the pages depicting his various failures could have been replaced with some of that information. 
What I really think: This is a fantastic book that touches on many curricular issues, including science, botany, and World War II, and is also a story of hope and resilience. Since I love tea roses, I am half tempted to find a bush to plant in my yard now. As I write this, the war in Ukraine is entering its second week, so this is especially timely. Have we learned nothing as a civilization?


  1. I love the story of the peace rose, and the book sounds really good. AS does the first book! Are there really no more school elections? I've seen elections in so many US tv programs (Arrested Development version is my favourite)! Thanks for the reviews!

  2. Both of these books sound great, Karen! Efrén Divided was a spectacular read, so I can imagine that Falling Short is immensely powerful—it definitely sounds like it tackles some meaningful topics without falling into typical MG tropes. (I totally agree—throwing a bunch of dead parents into MG books is much easier than actually understanding kids' lives struggles!) And A Rose Named Peace looks amazing—I actually recall Bagram Ibatoulline's beautiful illustrations from The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane (which I re-reviewed a couple weeks ago), so I may have to track this one down. Thanks so much for the wonderful reviews!

  3. Falling Short sounds like it will be a winner with MG kids. I get weary from all of the divorce/death single parent stories. Kids with families in tact, have realistic issues -- like not living up to a parents expectations, parents wrapped up in their work, living up to a popular sibling etc. This book sound like it will be a winner.
    Love the story about the Peace Rose -- will secure a copy. So glad that a breeder was honest and filed a patent on behalf of Meilland. Sounds like Meilland never knew?

  4. I'm a big fan of contemporary books for middle-graders that deal with kids' everyday problems. Falling Short sounds like the kind of read I'd love.

  5. Not much of a basketball person here, but I'll bet the kids will like it. I ordered a copy of A Rose Named Peace from my library. Thanks for the heads up.