Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Far Out!

Bustard, Ann. Far Out!
April 18, 2023 by Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Magnolia Jean Crook lives in the small town of Totter, Texas in 1964. The residents are all very interested in UFOs, and have a variety of organizations promoting intergalactic understanding. They are hosting a "Come on Down Day" where they hope that a UFO will visit, and are selling raffle tickets to see who will get to take a tour of the spacecraft, should one come. There is a display of a piece of meteorite, but when it goes missing, everyone is dismayed. The blame falls on Magnolia Jean's grandmother, Mimi, when the piece shows up in her shed. Mimi had access to the meteorite, even if she doesn't have a motive, and before too long Magnolia's father, the town sheriff, has to have his own mother arrested and put in jail. When she is let out on bail, she goes missing. Magnolia is worried, and lets her parents know right away. They are sure that Mimi has just gone to visit a friend, but when she is not there, and doesn't return, the police search for her. Magnolia tells her parents that Mimi has gotten confused before, and they all seem to know that Mimi is struggling with significant memory loss. When she returns, she hands over her car keys, and has to go back to jail because she broke bail. this makes Magnolia even more determined to find out who actually stole the meteorite, and she ramps up her investigations in town, evesdropping at the local diner and interviewing people who might have also had access. Of course, with the "Come on Down Day" approaching, everyone is looking forward to meeting extrterrestrials. Will Magnolia Jean be able to clear her grandmother's name?

Strengths: Bustard always does a good job with historical details (Blue Skies and Almost Paradise) and definitely captures the feeling of a small Texas town well. The obsession with space exploration and space aliens is well described and typical of the period. Magnolia Jean does a good job of investigating, and this has a little flavor fo flim noir as well. Mimi's descent into dementia plays a larger role in this book than I would have expected, but it is done well and worked into the plot nicely. I really enjoyed the page decorations at the beginning of the chapters. I'd love to see more middle grade books have those. 

Weaknesses: Putting the grandmother in jail for the missing meteorite seemed a bit of a stretch, even with the father being the local law enforcement. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who enjoyed Bow's Simon Sort of Says, Keller's Jennifer Chan is Not Alone, Murray's Alien Summer, or other titles that combine an interest in space aliens with more serious, realistic problems.

Towler, Paige. How It Happened: Gum
April 18, 2023 by Union Square Kids
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

I'm actually not a fan of gum as a sunstance; I never chew it, and if I would bring it home for my children when they were young, they would ask if something was wrong with me. As a popular culture phenomenon, however, it's quite interesting, and this was a great overview of the complete history of the sticky stuff.

This starts with ancient history, and has a lot of cool information about natural gums and things like mastic, which was new to me. Of course, in the 1800s, this sort of product was industrialized and sold, and was also heavily advertised. All of the big names in gum, such as Adams, Fleer, and Wrigley are covered, and the ways in which society viewed gum chewing were also covered, which I very much enjoyed. I believe that Miss Manners was even quoted!

The page organized is great; this is 192 pages long, but I imagine the trim size is rather small. The font is large, and there are plenty of illustrations. Many of these are really fun food pictures with different kinds of gum in patterns against bright colors. While these are fun to look at, I would have liked the inclusion of more vintage advertising and products.

Union Square Kids is also publishing How It Happened! Sneakers: The Cool Stories and Facts Behind Every Pair by Stephanie Warren Drimmer, and since there are a fair number of sneakerheads in my school, I'll definitely be purchasing this one as well.

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