Monday, May 08, 2023

MMGM- Absolutely, Positively Natty and Men of the 65th

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Greenwald, Lisa. Absolutely, Positively Natty
May 9, 2023 by Katherine Tegen Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Natty and her father move from Long Island to her father's parents' house in Miller Creek after her mother decides she needs some time alone to deal with her depression. Natty embraces the move as a new opportunity full of possibilities and puts a brave face on everything. Her new teacher, Ms. Lamlot, is a calming presence, but she finds herself thrown into a maelstrom of tween girl angst. She meets Mack, who hates everyone, but seems somewhat open to being friends. She also meets Lillian (who would rather be called Luna) and her friends Wade, Tape, and Braid, who all have a rather negative aura around them as well. Natty has a patch on her bag that says "positive vibes only", and the students at her new school do not embrace this philosophy. It's not easy for Natty to remain positive, but she doesn't see the point in being negative. Her grandmother is concerned, and tries to get her to join a group at school for children whose parents are getting divorced, and also wants her to attend the closest synagogue, but Natty is more concerned in finding a positive activity and getting her mother to move back with them. She comes across the idea of a pep squad and throws herself whole heartedly into that. Mack wants nothing to do with it, although she does occasionally hang out with Natty, and is concerned when Natty has a moment or two of being verklempt, although Natty quickly recovers and doesn't want to talk about it. Mack has a troubled family life, with parents who bicker and have to change apartments because of financial difficulties. There's also bad blood between her and Luna's group. Natty realizes that Luna and her friends have joined the pep squad to get out of a punishment, and also so they can slowly torture her, but she is not going to let it get her down. It does get hard to manage everything that's going on; her best friend from Long Island is struggling with their friend group because of what happened with Natty's mother, Natty tries to get people to like her by having her grandmother cater lunches at school, and her father seems to be dating Ms. Lamlot, which is not in the plans. There is also a teachers' strike that shows how many problems the school has, but which also interferes with Natty's plans for a pep assembly. Will Natty be able to reign in her positivity and find a way to regulate her life in a more authentic way?
Strengths: Natty has to deal with a lot of issues that affect many tweens. Parents divorcing, changing schools, trying to make friends, dealing with aging grandparents; these are all true to life. While I understand that this book examines toxic positivity, I thought that Natty's positive attitude had moments where it really worked well for her. There are certainly a lot of students who are negative, like Mack and Luna, but there are so many books about tweens who have a negative outlook. Greenwald has done her research, and the school details are all solid; I rather enjoyed the beleaguered principal who worked with her to set up a club, as well as Natty's e mails to the town mayor and her classmates, setting up the squad and the assembly. Of course, it's hard for tweens to deal with so many issues without accepting support, so young readers will enjoy Natty's epiphany that everyone has struggles, and it's okay to admit that things are not going well. 
Weaknesses: Except it's not. If you let people know that you are struggling, they can just use that against you. I guess I have a toxically positive personality, and I am absolutely not going to change that. However, I fully realize that I am in the minority here, and that everyone else thinks it is good to share one's struggles. Therefore, my feelings that this is a weakness in the book actually makes it a positive. Does that even make sense?
What I really think: I adore all of Greenwald's books, from the 2022 Dear Friends all that way back to the 2009 My Life in Pink and Green, and know that Natty's story will resonate with my students really, really well. I will definitely purchase a copy. I especially love the cover.

Aikens-Nuñez, Talia. Men of the 65th: The Borinqueneers of the Korean War
May 2, 2023 by Zest Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Over the last 80 years, there have been thousands of books about the US in World War II, but relatively little about the Korean War. Since it occurred from 1950-1953, we are quickly reaching the same point with survivors that we are with WWII; few are left. I'm glad to see a book that not only provides vital information about basics of the war, but also sheds light on the involvement and treatment of a lesser known group of soldiers, a group from Puerto Rico. 

There are some middle school readers who are obsessed with reading about war, and it's a fine line between giving them all of the battlefield that they want and balancing it with historical information to give them context and also show them that war is not a good thing. Aikens-Nuñez does a great job of this. There is a great explanation not only of the events leading up to the Korean War and the US involvement in it, but a lot of great information about Puerto Rico, the Spanish-American War, and the start of the Borinqueneers in 1899 and the various roles they have played through history. 

There is plenty of information about the training of soldiers, the set up of the army (I love the one page that broke down the different terms of what different military groups are called, not that any of the information stayed with me!), and various operations and fighting. This is well illustrated with period photographs, and while I always think that pictures of groups like the singing Sons of Puerto Rico are fun, my military experts will enjoy the ones of the equipment or battlefields, and will ADORE all of the maps that start the chapters. 

The most interesting part of the book is the court martial of ninety-six members of the regiment following the retreat from Hill 391. The group was treated very unfairly, which highlighted the way that members of color were treated in the military at this point in time. The army tried to hush it up, and eventually everyone was exonerated. In 2016, the 65th Infantry was presented with a Congressional Gold Medal. While it's good to have this treatment come to light and know that people in power are trying to do better, there are so many stories like this that it makes me wonder if the military will ever really change. 

This is a well-researched and formatted book for middle grade and even high school libraries. There is a good glossary, timeline, and abundant source notes at the end. I'm glad that we are finally seeing more military history that shows the dedication and resilience of underrepresented populations in the face of social and political oppression. This is a great book to have alongside ones like Farrell's Standing Up Against Hate: How Black Women in the Army Helped Change the Course of WWII, Stone's Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles, Walker's Deadly Aim: The Civil War Story of Michigan's Anishinaabe Sharpshooters or Turner's Man Called Horse: John Horse and the Black Seminole Underground Railroad.

1 comment:

  1. I'm surprised how many kids are interested in war. I agree it's good to have some books about the Korean War. I haven't seen many about it. This one sounds really, really good. Absolutely Positively Natty sounds pretty good too. Thanks for the reviews.