Monday, June 27, 2022

MMGM- The Wonders We Seek and The Fort

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Faruqi, Saadia, Mumtaz, Aneese, and Khan, Saffa (illus.).
The Wonders We Seek: Thirty Incredible Muslims Who Helped Shape the World
June 7th 2022 by Quill Tree Books
ARC provided by Young Adult Books Central

Arranged in order of year of birth and accompanied by beautiful illustrations, this collective biography is painstakingly researched and gives brief overviews of a wide range of Muslim pioneers from all over the globe. Farqui starts the book with information about how hard it is to find biographies about Muslims, even though this community has a long history of innovation and interest in the science and arts. This has been largely ignored in Western civilization, and it can be difficult to find any personal information on some of this groundbreaking people. Since she wanted to include people whose influence stretched beyond their own country, some people who might be controversial are included.

Each entry starts with a few sentences about the person's general contribution, then includes any information about the person's family and childhood, career arc, problems faced, and lasting legacy. These range from Al-Ma'mun, who was born in 786, to Malala. People from a variety of backgrounds, careers, and areas of the world are covered. There are some people who will be more well known to Western readers who were converts to Islam, such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, and Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens), but I found entries about people like poet Nana Asma'u, born in Nigeria in 1793, to be more interesting. The most fascinating person to me was Abdul Rahman Ibrahim, born in Guinea in 1762 to a powerful West African ruler and enslaved and brought to the US. It amazes me that he is not covered in US history classes.

It's hard to adequately describe collective biographies, but this is a great addition to school and public libraries, and one of a growing number of books covering previously unheralded innovators with significant impact on the world like Baptiste and Wilson's new African Icons: Ten People Who Shaped History and Mir and Jaleel's Muslim Girls Rise (2019, Salaam Reads). My only complaint is that the illustrations, which are gorgeous, don't list the people's name, dates, locations, and blurbs about their contributions. If they did, it would be a good idea to buy two copies so that one could be cut up for bulletin boards. I can't be the only one who reads collective biographies and thinks this way!

It's encouraging that I had two books in one night (the other being Zhao's Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor) that mention people with Uighur heritage. Rebiya Kadeer, known as the Grandmother of Steel and born in 1946, is included in this book.

Korman, Gordon. The Fort
June 28th 2022 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Evan and his brother Luke are being raised by their grandparents since their mother and father's struggles with addiction caused them to walk away from the boys. Evan's grandmother makes him hang out with the son of a coworker, Ricky, and he has to take the boy with him when he meets up with Mitchell (whose single mother has just lost her job, which led her to cancel his therapy sessions for his OCD), C.J.(whose stepfather Marcus buys him all the coolest stuff, but at a cost), and Jason (whose parents are in the middle of a divorce and using him as a bargaining chip). In the woods, they find that the fort they had constructed out of old shower curtains has been destroyed, but Ricky finds a large metal panel. Digging around that, the boys find that it is the door to a cold war era bomb shelter, most likely stocked in the mid 1980s. It has electricity, a composting toilet, a recond player and a VCR with movies like Jaws. There's also a vast quantity of canned food like ravioli that the boys find surprisingly edible. They make a pact to keep it secret, and Jason is told that he can't even tell his girlfriend, Janelle, whose father is a local policeman. The boys are glad to have the new fort as respite from the various things complicating their lives. Evan has to deal with Luke's friend, Jaeger, who tries to get him to steal money from a local restaurant, and who breaks things of the boys' grandmother's when he doesn't get his way. Jason has to deal with his parents' divorce proceedings, and the tug of war they are having with him (and a cactus that blooms once a year) in the middle. Ricky has come from a magnet school in another town, and is studying for the entrance exam to one in Canaan, but has to deal with a baby sister with colic. C.J. has to deal with Marcus' erratic behavior, and when it becomes too much, starts to live in the bomb shelter. The boys pawn some of the silverware they find in the shelter, which belonged to the long dead owner of a local auto parts factory, and using the money to fix a phone and buy a few things brings them onto Jaeger's radar, and they worry that he will find their fort. When Janelle mentions that the police are concerned about the silverware turning up, Jason allows her to come into the fort, and the others aren't happy even though she insists that they do a little bit of cleaning so the place doesn't smell! C.J.'s mother claims that she will leave Marcus, but needs to have a plan. Will the boys be able to keep the fort a secret long enough for C.J. and his mother to get help?
Strengths: This 100th book by middle grade master Korman will definitely be a hit with students. Forty year old ravioli and a fully electrified hiding place in the woods? It's every middle grade reader's dream. Of course, there are plenty of serious issues that would lend themselves well to being a class novel or a read aloud. I appreciated that the boys all had different types of families that better represent the reality we are seeing today, and that Mitchell was neurodivergent. This is told from different perspectives, which can be tricky to pull off, but which went suprisingly smoothly. Korman continues to understand the details about middle grade life; phones with GPS tracking, the vagaries of friendships, a light romance, school involvement, and even tween transportation. Of course, there's also the fact that  most 12 year old boys would definitely try out ancient canned goods. This had moments of humor with an underlying serious concern, and the fact that the friends all rallied around C.J. and helped him out was touching. This was a book that needed a happy ending that was very much appreciated when it arrived. 
Weaknesses: Five characters is a lot, but I'm not sure which one could have been dropped. It all worked out, and younger readers seem to do better with multiple perspectives than I do, maybe because they've been raised on Wonder and Because of Mr. Terupt
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and the author's note outlining his career will entice readers to check out his other work. 


  1. Korman continues to deliver top notch novels. I'm looking forward to reading this one although it is about five books away on my future read list. Thanks for featuring your review on MMGM.

  2. I hadn't seen The Wonders We Seek until today, but it looks like a really compelling collective biography (I hadn't heard that term until today either, but it's very fitting)! And The Fort looks fantastic as well—I am always impressed by how quickly Gordon Korman churns out quality books. Thanks so much for the wonderful reviews, Karen!

  3. The Fort is currently on my reading list for this week. I'm looking forward to reading it. The Wonders We Seek sounds like something I need to purchase for my classroom library. Have a good week!

  4. The Fort was on my radar, but I finally added it to my list after reading your review. Korman gets better and better as a writer.

  5. I just finished The Fort a few days ago, and I loved it. I'm sure it will be a hit with your students. The Wonders We Seek sounds like a terrific book. It must have been really hard to do all the research necessary, but it sounds like it was well worth it. I will try to check it out. Thanks for the reviews.

  6. I have a copy of The Fort, but haven't gotten to it yet. Good to know your thoughts. I know Korman's written a lot of books, but I didn't know it was a hundred!