Monday, October 24, 2022

MMGM- All the Nonfiction!

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Nelson, Colleen and MacIsaac, Kathie. If You Can Dream It, You Can Do It: How 25 Inspiring Individuals Found Their Dream Jobs
October 25th 2022 by Pajama Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this well-formatted collective biography, nicely illustrated with Scot Ritche's full color, exuberant page decorations, we meet a variety of people who set out to pursue jobs from farming to teaching to writing books. There are common jobs that young readers may see in their every day lives, as well as more exotic occupations like stuntperson, clothing designers and mathematicians, as well as the holy grail of middle school careers, professional video game player! Each biography includes basic information about what encouraged the person to go into a particular field, "pro tips" on how to get into the field as well as tangential areas, "spin-off jobs" that are similar, and a short biography of a younger person who has already started the path to a similar career. I especially liked the "Why Not Try?" feature that might suggest a web site to visit, opportunities young people might avail themselves of, or activities to try to see if they have an interest in a topic. There are also fun facts and information about inspiring individuals and how they fought through challenges, like Dav Pilkey.

The people profiled are not necessarily all that well know, but are all involved in pursuits that suit their passions. There are many young people included, such as Amoy Antunet, who became interested in neuroscience at a young age, and Jessica Walker, who has saved many animals from horrific situations. 

There is also additional information about the different paths of education that can be taken to end up in a career, so that readers can understand that college is not necessary for everyone. The list of future jobs was interesting but did not include Jet Pack Repairer, which was disappointing! The world will definitely need AI specialists, sustainable energy technicians, and urban agriculture specialists, as well as many jobs we can't begin to imagine! The overview of skill sets that are useful for most jobs should be something that all students are required to read; I don't know how one can teach adaptability, but we have all certainly needed that skill the last few years! 

In addition to being a good book to have for career studies, this book can offer a lot of scope for the imagination and open up the world of career opportunities. Include this exciting new title along with books like Dennenberg's 50 American Heroes Every Kid Should Meet!, Bell's You Can Change the World: The Kids' Guide to a Better Planet, Kyi and Kyi's Better Connected: How Girls Are Using Social Media for Good, and Li's Rise Up: Ordinary Kids with Extraordinary Stories.

Full disclosure: Ms. MacIsaac is a librarian with whom I pal around on social media. I applaud her for making her own career dreams come true. I absolutely don't believe the title, but we probably shouldn't be telling young people that. For me to "live the dream", I'd need to travel back to 1950 so I could retire as a Latin teacher before nearly every program in the US was cut. We do what we have to do.

Albee, Sarah. Troublemakers in Trousers
October 25, 2022 by Charlesbridge Publishing
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

This fantastic collective biography discusses a wide range of women who lived lives that were just outside of the gender norms of the time. I think it's hard for people under the age of fifty to realize how prevalent skirts for women were until quite recently; certainly, when I started teaching in the late 1980s, most professional women wore skirts. My grandmothers, born in the 1890s, never wore slacks. Starting with an overview of traditional gender norms and a discussion of how these have changed in just the last few years, Albee (who previously discussed fashion in her 2015 Why'd They Wear That?: Fashion as the Mirror of History) introduces us to women who needed to cast aside skirts in order to get things DONE. 

I appreciated that this presented the women in chronological order, and there was just enough information on each one to whet the appetite for further research (8-10 pages). While there were some people with whom readers might be familiar (Harriet Tubman, Frida Kahlo, Amelia Bloomer), there were others like Lakshmibai, Rosa Bonheur, Vesta Tilley, and Lillian Bland that might not be. Since many of the women lived before photography, the illustrations are a nice touch to make the entries more uniform. The most interesting one was Maya Angelou and her time as a streetcar conductor in San Francisco. This book embraces the current thoughts about gender, colonialism, and marginalized people and makes a great effort to be inclusive. 

Barone, Rebecca. Unbreakable: The Spies Who Cracked the Nazis' Secret Code
October 25, 2022 by Henry Holt and Co.
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Full disclosure: I don't really have any interest in World War II, which is unfortunate, because my students are HUGELY interested in it. I've read a lot, but struggle to keep things straight unless the book focuses on one historical figure, like Virginia Hall in Agent Most Wanted. Barone has done an exquisite and exhaustive job at tracking down a huge number of figures involved with the cracking of the Enigma machine's codes, and presents this information in vignettes that capture the suspense and danger these brave men and women would have felt. It's a page turner, but does cover such a vast amount of information that I just couldn't keep it all straight. This will not bother my readers, who seem to have the entire timeline of the war memorizes and don't have any trouble getting through Weintraub's No Better Friend: Young Readers Edition: A Man, a Dog, and Their Incredible True Story of Friendship and Survival in World War II or Farrell's Pure Grit. I will definitely purchase this, and it will circulate really well, given the fantastic cover. 

Sadly, I would retain more of this if it were made into a BBC miniseries that was available on Masterpiece Theater!

From Goodreads:
As the Germans waged a brutal war across Europe, details of every Nazi plan, every attack, every troop movement were sent over radio. But to the Allied troops listening in—and they were always listening—the crucial messages sounded like gibberish. The communications were encoded with a powerful cipher, making all information utterly inaccessible . . . unless you could unlock the key to the secret code behind the German’s powerful Enigma machine.

Complete with more than sixty historical photos, Unbreakable tells the true story of one of the most dangerous war-time codebreaking efforts ever. While Hitler marched his troops across newly conquered lands and deadly “wolfpacks” of German U-Boats prowled the open seas, a team of codebreakers, spies, and navy men raced against the clock to uncover the secrets that hid German messages in plain sight. Victory—or defeat—in World War II would hinge on their desperate attempts to crack the code.

 is a groundbreaking work of narrative nonfiction from Rebecca E. F. Barone, the author of Race to the Bottom of the Earth (recipient of four starred reviews)—perfect for fans of BombThe Boys Who Challenged Hitler, and The Nazi Hunters.


  1. What a great collection of nonfiction! I might be interested in reading both Unbreakable: The Spies Who Cracked the Nazis' Secret Code & Agent Most Wanted!

  2. Wow, this is a great list! I'm interested in every title you reviewed, as well as the comps. I do like WW II (though I'm truly fascinated with WWI) so I will pick up Unbreakable and will also check out the rest of Barone's canon, as narrative nonfiction is one of my favourite genres. That said, If You Can Dream It, You Can Do It sounds like a really unique take on career advice aimed at middle graders, though I don't believe in the title's message any more than you do. To live my dream, I would have to be able to split into three different people: one, a writer; one, an ocean biologist and one, a farmer.

    Don't see that happening anytime soon.

    1. Ms. Yingling6:52 PM EDT

      And basically, all of my students want to be professional athletes or YouTubers, and I don't think more than one or two will ever manage that! I have a couple of former students who now play basketball in Korea or somwhere like that, but that's as close as they get. If they all dreamt of being accountants or nurses, maybe!

  3. Great choices. I am putting Unbreakable on my list. I think it sounds particularly good. Thanks for the reviews.