Monday, January 16, 2023

MMGM--Figure It Out, Henri Weldon and Piece by Piece

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Davis, Tanita. Figure It Out, Henri Weldon 
January 17th 2023 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Henrietta Weldon has an older brother and sister, Kat, who are much better in school than she is. Because she's struggled with dyscalculia, she's been attending a private school, but when her mother starts working on her PhD, money is tight and she has to attend public school. This is stressful, but she manages to make a few friends. Vinnie has a pet rat that he smuggles to school, and since Henri has a snake, she finds the pet fascinating. Kat is appalled that Henri sat with him at lunch, because he and his sisters, Ana and Lily are in foster care together. Lily bullied Kat the previous school year, and Kat is furious that Henri has put Kat on her radar again. It doesn't help that Vinnie is Henri's math tutor at school and is really helping her with her math. Henri and Kat have a lot of fights; they share a room, and Henri is messy while Kat is neat. Kat doesn't like Henri's snake, Wil, especially when he poops on the floor! Kat borrows Henri's clothes without asking. The problems with Vinnie and his family just add fuel to the flames. The parents are very supportive and big on working things out, even though the mother has a difficult relationship with her own sister because their styles are so different. Henri is tired of having to limit her activities because school is hard, and when Ana thinks she should try out for soccer, she asks her parents if she can. Her mother thinks she should concentrate on her school work, and feels that sports are unimportant, but Henri's aunt changes her mind. It is a struggle to juggle everything, and sometimes Henri disappoints herself; she wants to turn in a poem to the school literary magazine, but forgets. Will she be able to keep up with her schoolwork after she gets on the soccer team? And will she and Kat come to some kind of sisterly detente?
Strengths: Sibling relationships in middle school are such an enormous part of tweens' lives, and as adults, I think we forget about this. Kat and Henri have a strained relationship because of many small details of their lives, but underneath love each other and want to support each other. But when a snake poops in your room? The tween and teen reaction is to go straight to conflict! This is one of the best portraits of how family life affects tweens that I've seen. Henri's problems with math are given just enough time for us to see the impact of them on other aspects of her life, but don't overwhelm the story. Vinnie, his sisters, and Grandma Dot all offer helpful portrayals of the difficulties that kids in foster care face, and seeing how Kat views the family is interesting. Again, there are many of my students in this situation, and finding characters who have similar backgrounds but whose experience is not ALL problems is difficult. Davis' 2016 Peas and Carrots also did a good job at showing the interactions of foster kids in school settings. This book will appeal to readers who like friend drama, new school stories, or books like Delle Donne's Belle of the Ball or Hurwitz's 2011 Callie Be Gold, where middle school students have to work on their life balance. 
Weaknesses: There were a lot of characters and a lot going on. Since I read really quickly, I got a bit confused at certain points, but that's more of a me problem. 
What I really think: It's difficult to work math into a middle grade novel successfully, but there are some other examples where this is well done, including Souders' Dead Possums Are Fair Game (2015), Swenden's Solving for M (2019), and Kinard's The Boy Problem (2014). I liked that even though math plays a decently large role, it doesn't overwhelm Henri's other activities. This is a little younger than Davis' usual novels, which generally are at the upper end of the middle grade range, but Davis has shown that she can handle the middle of the middle grade experience as well. The cover is great as well, so I see this being a very popular title with readers who want a realistic story with a lot of friend drama.

Aquilar, David and Aquliar, Ferran. 
Piece by Piece: How I Built My Life (No Instructions Required)
October 25th 2022 by Amazon Crossing Kids
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

David was born in the early 2000s in Andorra. His right arm was not fully formed, ending with truncated digits at elbow level. The family later found out this was Poland syndrome, which also affected his chest muscles. His parents and grandparents were glad that he was healthy, and vowed to support him and make sure he was a successful person. David tells his story about growing up, facing challenges, and makes it very clear that in his mind, he isn't "lacking" anything. 

His parents did contact Dr. Doncel, whose daughter had a similarly formed arm, and were helped a lot by her support. His father often adapted things for him, like his bicycle, and the family installed a heated pool at their home so that he could swim. Where David often didn't find support was with his classmates. One girl, with whom he was very good friends, refused to go out with him because his arm freaked her out, and he was repeatedly bullied by a boy named Jordi. Because of his strong background of support, David was able to work through how these tough relationship made him feel. He decided early on to maintain a positive attitude, which shows through strongly in this memoir. 

At the age of nine, David, who was enthralled with Legos, built himself a prosthetic arm. It was a great accomplishment, but wasn't as useful as he hoped. He continued to work on it, and eventually made himself a prosthetic that worked very well. His father contacted the LEGO company, and David soon acchieved some fame for his work. This led to other opportunities, and as a young man, he has many choices available to him thanks to his ingenuity and work ethic. 

The story isn't entirely linear, and we do see some of the same events repeatedly discussed. the chapters often end with a cliff hanger tone. 

Readers who found Bowling's Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus interesting will be glad to pick up this nonfiction account of someone dealing with limb differences. Reeve's Born Just Right offers another view of a similar difference. I'm not sure that David himself would like the term "Disability Pride Month", which is celebrated in July, but there are not that many memoirs about teens and young adults who have overcome significant physical challenges, so this would be a great choice for readers who want to explore others' experiences and want something longer than Clark's Zion Unmatched. 


  1. Thanks for the intro to both books, new titles to me. I have a grown niece with some physical problems because of Cerebral Palsy. Though the book seems to be for kids, I will share this with her, wishing she could have had a book like this in her own teen life. It was a struggle!

  2. Both these books look really interesting. I think the social implications of 'disability' are really complicated and it seems like both of these books deal with them. My cousin has dyscalculia. She functions well now and has has held good jobs all her life, but it was really hard for her growing up.

  3. I especially enjoyed reading David's memoir, his humor and positive attitude made this such an enjoyable read. Figure It Out, Henri Weldon also sounds like a wonderful book, and I do enjoy sibling stories, even ones where they don't necessarily get along at first. Happy MMGM

  4. Piece By Piece was a fascinating NF read. I have not had a chance to read your other selection, but I like that the author is focusing on the middle years of MG readers Thanks for being a part of MMGM once again!

  5. Both of these sound interesting. I don't know how you have time to read and review 2 books!!

  6. wow! They both look so good. I'm especially intrigued by Piece by Piece...

  7. I just saw Figure it Out earlier this week and was immediately drawn to it. Now will go add it to my wish list. Piece by Piece sounds so fascinating too. Thanks for introducing both to me.
    My Monday post is here

  8. Thanks for the reviews. Piece by Piece sounds positively fascinating.