Monday, March 07, 2022

MMGM- The Race of the Century and Hearts and Crafts

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 
Bascomb, Neal. The Race of the Century: The Battle to Break the Four-Minute Mile
March 1st 2022 by Scholastic Focus
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

I'd like to think that all of my students knew who Roger Bannister was, and that he was the first person to break the four  minute mile, but since even I did not realize that the latest record for the fastest mile was set by Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco in 1999, I think that is probably not true. The thing that I liked best about this book detailing the efforts expent to break this record in the 1950s is that it also talked about the two strongest also-rans, U.S. runner Wes Santee and Australian John Landy. They were both so close, and deserve to be remembered as well. 

In addition to telling the story of the three men in close competition for this record, this book gave a good overview of the views of running and exercise over time. The thought that the body had only a certain amount of heart beats, and once you used them up, you would die, seems ludicrous today. Considering that marathon runners in the early twentieth century ingested strychnine to help with endurance (see McCarthy's alarming The Wildest Race Ever, 2016), this seems reasonable in comparison. In order to understand the triumph of the four minute mile, it's important to understand the composition of the tracks, the running gear, and the science (or lack thereof) that went into training seventy years ago. 

It's also eye opening to read about the individuals who were training. Roger Bannister loved running, but didn't really consult too many others on how he should go about it. He was in school to be a doctor, and ran experiments on oxygen use in the body while he was preparing for his races, but he was also in school full time and covering shifts in the hospital! Santee had a hard upbringing, and was in college as well. He also joined the reserves, and ended up not running in several critical races because of that commitment. Landy was studying at the University of Melbourne, and trying to decide whether to concentrate on farming or teaching. Keeping connected to the running world was not as easy when technology consisted of radio and telephones! The fact that these men had to train in addition to going about their own lives and preparing for adulthood makes their efforts all the more impressive. No teams of trainers or schedule entirely devoted to their pursuits for them!

This book was very engaging and fast paced, and I kept turning the pages, closely following the progress that was being made. Perhaps the most impressive thing about the training was how few injuries there were, which made Landy's cut foot before the Empire Games seem all the more tragic. Certainly, middle distance racing in the 1950s involved a certain amount of privilege, and few runners of color are mentioned, but this is still a riveting read about events in the past that we can't change.

There are not as many books about running as there are about baseball, football or basketball, with the noteable exception of Speno's The Great American Foot Race:Ballyhoo for the Bunion Derby!(2017), Swaby's  Mighty Moe: The True Story of a Thirteen-Year-Old Women's Running Revolutionary (2019) and Babe, and the Wallace's Babe Conquers the World (2014), and Knight's Shoe Dog (2017), so this is an excellent title for young runners who want to know what the world was like before Lycra and Spandex, targeted diets, and prescribed training regimens. 

Papademetriou, Lisa. Squad Goals (Hearts and Crafts #1)
March 1st 2022 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Mackenzie and her mother have moved into a new duplex, where they have a little more room for her mother's quilting hobby. (Or, as Mackenzie points out, her mother's fabric buying hobby!) The first day there, Mackenzie tries to heat up dinner, but hits the "auto clean" button on the stove and incinerates it. New neighbor Zane helps out, and Mackenzie tries to fix him up with her mother... and tries to draw the interest of the firemen as well! Her father lives far away with his new wife and son, and Mackenzie wants her mother to have someone in her life as well. At school, things are a bit fraught with former friends Avril and Johanna, and when Avril decides she doesn't want to talk to Mackenzie, she loses Johanna as well. Undaunted, Mackenzie revs up her projects, which include a fundraiser to raised money for new band instruments. She manages to get things started, but doesn't have as many skills as she needs to really get things rolling. She finally has to ask new friend Sheera (who is Zane's neice) for help, and manages to pull off a successful event. 
Strengths: Like Tara Dairman's All Four Stars, this starts with a small kitchen fire. Great lesson in safety, AND a great way to draw readers into the story. The description of Mackenzie's home, the way she and her mom get along, and how this affects her attitude and performance at school was just wonderful. I don't understand the need to kill off middle grade parents in order to allow characters to have adventures-- get the parents involved just a tiny bit! Tweens still basically like their parents, but are just starting to have problems dealing with them, and there's a lot of dramatic tension possibilities! The friend drama is perfect, and I loved that Mackenzie is able to make some new friends without too many problems. Her fundraiser draws from reality (are their arts programs that AREN'T underfunded?), and I loved her can-do attitude. The cover is great, and if this is a four book series I will be very happy!
Weaknesses: The E ARC kept freezing, which was very frustrating and lead to a poorer than usual grasp of details and names. 
What I really think: Has it really been ten years since Confectionately Yours? Right now, this is exactly the kind of book that students are asking for. I would LOVE to see a similar series with boys as the main characters. Kids in chess club? Robotics club? There are so many possibilities! 


  1. I'll have to give The Race of the Century a read. My track days are over but books about running always grab my attention. I know a few young runners who would enjoy this one too. Thanks for featuring your review on MMGM.

  2. These couldn't be more different, but they both sound great. I loved Tara Dairman's earlier books, so I will keep an eye out for this one. It sounds fun. Thanks for the reviews.