Monday, April 11, 2022

MMGM- Parks for the People and Zara's Rules for Record Breaking Fun

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Partridge, Elizabeth. Parks for the People: How Frederick Law Olmsted Designed America 
April 5th 2022 by Viking Books for Young Readers
E ARC Provided by Edelweiis Plus

Hartford, Connecticut was a busy place in the 1830s, filled with factories and newly arrived immigrants. Frederick Olmstead great up in this environment, but loved escaping to nature. At 15, he became a surveyor's apprentice, and he found himself living as a young adult in New York City. He found work in 1857 as a supervisor for a project to clear land for a park. This project wiped out a Black community, Seneca Village, but proceeded anyway. Fred and a friend won a contest to design the park, and Fred went on to work as the Executive Secretary of the US sanitary Commission during the Civil War, where he tried to improve the health and safety of the soldiers. He was involved in the Gold Rush in 1863, and ended up spending time in Yosemite. The formation of a national park there destroyed a Native American community, byt cemented Olmstead's position as a much sought after designer of public spaces, and he went on to work on Prospect Park and the US Capitol grounds. Included at the end are notes, a timeline, and resources.
Strengths: I picked this up for two reasons: Peter Lerangis' Out of Time, and Partridge's Boots on the Ground. Readers who enjoyed the inclusion of Olmsted as a character in the third Throwbackbook will find just enough information about the park designer and his work to understand how important he was to the mysteries in the time travel. This is a great way for young readers to learn about an unusual but influential historical figure. I appreciated that there was a brief discussion about the Black and Native American communities that were destroyed; in the past, there wouldn't have been any mention of them at all. The picture book illustrations are beautiful, and give a really good feel for the spaces that Olmstead designed. I learned a lot, especially about the layout of the Capitol grounds. 
Weaknesses: There could have been a tiny bit more discussion about how the land was inappropriately taken from the Black and Native communities in the text without getting into a very deep discussion. It is mentioned some more in the end notes. I think that even young readers are more aware of these sorts of injustices and want them to be acknowledged. 
What I really think: This is such a fascinating topic that I would really like to see a longer book about Olmstead's career, something like Bruchac's One Real American: The Life of Ely S. Parker, Seneca Sachem and Civil War General  or Pearson's Fighting for the Forest: How FDR's Civilian Conservation Corps Helped Save America 

Khan, Hena. Zara's Rules for Record Breaking Fun
April 19th 2022 by Salaam Reads / Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Zara, the older sister of Zayd Saleem, is the "queen" of her neighborhood, or is so called by kindly older neighbor Mr. Chapman. When Mr. Chapman moves, he leaves her a necklace with a crown charm on it, and Zara is very apprehensive about who might move into his house. Her neighborhood in Brisk River, Maryland has a lot of children, and they all play together pretty well. When the new residents include Naomi Goldstein, who is in Zara's grade, and her older brother Michael, Zara's mother has her take over cookies. Naomi is attending the Jewish Day School, but gets along well with the other kids in the neighborhood. Almost too well for Zara's taste, since her other friends start to bail on her plans to follow Naomi. When her uncle gives her some of his old books, include a Guinness Book of World Records, Zara decides to try to break records so that the kids in the neighborhood still find her interesting. She tries to make the longest chalk drawing, and spend the most time tap dancing and hula hooping, but is not successful in any of her endeavors. Naomi tries to make the biggest rugelach, but also runs into trouble. Zara's grandmother understands, and helps her by explaining some of the activities she did as a girl growing up in Lahore. When Zara finds out that there is a long, official process to make it into the record book, she starts a neighborhood record book, and the children find this a lot easier and more fun to try to get into. 
Strengths: Zara's neighborhood seems like such a fantastic one, with all of those children! I always wished that there were more children near me when I was growing up, and I know my own children liked to be able to walk or bike to find friends to play with. Her neighborhood is also very culturally diverse. Her jealousy of Naomi is understandable, and the way that she reacts to losing the interest of her friends is realistic. She has a great, supportive family, and the brief interactions with her grandmother are very charming, and everything works out well in the end. This was a fairly short book with great illustrations. 
Weaknesses: This must be set before the Zayd Saleem books, since he is in fourth grade in those, and in about second grade here, so I was a tiny bit confused. 
What I really think: My gold standard for early elementary realistic fiction is Carolyn Haywood's Betsy books, and this had the same great neighborhood feel. I can see Zara and Betsy hanging out with Nina Soni, Jasmine Toguchi, Cleo Edison Oliver, Lola Levine, Stella Diaz, and Mindy Kim


  1. Thanks for featuring these two very different books. !'ll be asking our librarian if they are available. The neighborhood sounds like mine growing up with a 5,7, and 9 kid family all the same street. Happy MMGM!

  2. Parks People sounds fascinating. I didn't know Black families and Native Americans were displaced and their homeland destroyed with the development. Never really thought about it, but it's important information for kids to know.
    Zara Rules sounds like a fun read. I did grow up in a large neighborhood packed with kids -- but it was all white. The moving to the suburbs. We had one Jewish family, and that was fun. Wish we had more diversity growing up. Never heard of the Betsy books by Haywood.

  3. I just received my review copy of the Olmsted book. After reading your review, I am anxious to get to it. Zara's story sounds like fun. I'm looking for some good, short books right now. I'll try to get a copy. Thanks for the post.