Monday, May 29, 2023

MMGM- Grounded and They Are Here!

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Saeed, Aisha, Ali, S.K., Al-Marashi, Huda and Thompkins-Bigelow, Jamilah. Grounded.
Published May 9, 2023 by Abrams/Amulet
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

The Zora Neal Hurston airport is very busy with people returning home from the Muslims of North American (MONA) Conference. Among the travelers are four children who end up working together to find a lost cat, Snickerdoodle, who has been loose in the airport for a week. Hanna Chen, an ardent member of Animal Allies, is determined to find this cat, and is also dealing with the fact that her father attended a matrimonial match dinner at the conference. Her mother died when she was very young, but she doesn't really like the idea of her father bringing someone else into the home. When Hanna runs into Feek, who is watching his very active young sister while his mother is dealing with his baby brothers, she offers to use her detective skills to find Ruqi. Feek wants to be a poet/musician like his father, and wishes he could get more of his busy father's attention. Sami is usually anxious, but is particularly worried because he wants to get home in time to compete in a martial arts event, and it looks like he may not make the flight. He doesn't want to get roped into the search, but ends up helping. Nora's mother is Congresswoman Sarah Najjar, but Nora is more interested in buiding her NokNok social network following, and since two of her friends at school have more followers than she does, she is hoping that her mother can take her to Chocolate Garden so she can post some content. When it's closed, she's angry, especially since it was her birthday, and her mother pretty much ignored it. There are other issues at home with her friends, most of whom are not Muslim, but especially with her new friendship with Sumaya, who is Muslim, and who thinks that Nora is too busy erasing her own culture. Nora runs into Ruqi in the food court and buys her a snack, since she recognizes her as the little girl who interrupted her mother's speech. When Ruqi is reunited with Feek, and all of the flights are grounded, the group intensifies their search for Snickerdoodle. They all have their reasons; Feek thinks retrieving the cat (who is owned by another musician) will help his father pay attention to him, Sami wants to prove to his parents that he isn't scared of everything, and Nora is working through lots of personal issues with her mother, friends, and identity. Hanna, of course, is on a mission to advocate for pets, but has a lot of her facts about how pets are treated at the airport wrong. Will the four be able to work together, take care of Ruqi, find Snickerdoodle, and deal with their personal issues?
Strengths: This was a fun adventure that reminded me of Messner's Capture the Flag. I love that there is even an airport map, so we can see that the area isn't that big, and there are a lot of places that tweens can go safely, even with Ruqi along. While each character's voice is very clear (the chapters alternate viewpoints), the writing is absolutely seamless, and I wouldn't have guessed that four authors put the story together! The Muslim representation is varied, and there are lots of different issues that come up in passing; prayers are said, cultural touchpoints like dress are discussed, and the MONA conference connects all of the children, so they immediately take to each other, having seen each other in passing. Technology is used in an organic way, with Sami tracking flights, Mona wanting to post pictures, and Hanna using other's posts to try to find Snickerdoodle. Who knew that an airport could provide such an environment for adventure!?
Weaknesses: I'm not the sort of adult who doesn't want ANY lying or sneaking around in books, but given that this was at an airport, I was very worried about the group breaking into restricted areas, and was a bit surprised that they weren't arrested. Also, I think that if four tweens and a toddler went into a high end luggage store in an airport, the clerk would want to kick them out no matter what their cultural background was! 
What I really think: This is a great mix of culture, social media, animal activism, and adventure that will appeal to a wide variety of readers. The cover is great as well. Now all I need to make this airport experience complete is a Crunchy Fluffy Dream Bar from Chocolate Garden!

Smith, Roland. They Are Here: How Invasive Species Are Spoiling Our Ecosystem
May 30, 2023 by Godwin Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Smith, who has written so many good middle grade fiction books(from the new The Switch to the classic 2007 Peak), has a background in science and zoology. After discussing how he came to a career in science and what invasive species are, he lays out about thirty different flora and fauna that are categorized as invasive. Rats, birds, snakes, reptiles, cats, insects, "nibblers and rooters", fish, and mollusks all are examined. The different types of each category that are problematic are described, and Smith also talks about walk can be done to help with the problems they cause by being in the wrong place. There are also chapters on eating invasive species, and on whether or not humans might be considered one as well. The book ends with a chapter on biodiversity, a glossary, suggested readings, and complete ends notes. 

This is a little shorter than most middle grade chapter books, and readers who like narrative nonfiction and are interested in this topic will find this to be a quick read. There are very nice illustrations (which make the invasive species seem perhaps a bit cuddlier than they are; I'm looking at you, feral hogs!), although I wouldn't have minded some photographs, especially of the plants. I live near a wetlands, so it would have been helpful to see pictures to identify invasive plants. I also could have used some information on Callery pears, which I am starting to see everywhere. They are one of the reasons that grass near highways is clear cut; if allowed to grow, the pear trees would soon take over and create a dense thicket of growth! 

This would be a great gift for the science teacher in your life, and is a great addition to environmental titles like Sneed Collards' Hopping Ahead of Climate Change: Snowshoe Hares, Science and Survival and Fire Birds. It's a topic I wish interested more students!


  1. The first one is certainly an interesting plot, one perhaps to forget that it's not too probable. Thanks for the second one, too, will look for that one!

  2. I keep hearing about Grounded, and I'm definitely intrigued by the power-quartet of MG authors who wrote it (all of whom I read stories by in the Once Upon an Eid anthology). I do suspect that all the semi-illegal adventuring going on would drive me a little crazy, though! They Are Here also seems really intriguing as well, and it definitely tackles an important topic. Thanks so much for the thoughtful reviews, Karen!

  3. They Are Here is on my reading list, too. I feel like your review has helped me set my expectations-- I think I'll really enjoy it, but I think you made great points about wanting pictures. Thanks for sharing your reviews!

  4. I would be worried about kids running around an airport too! It's hard to lose that adult side of ourselves!

  5. They Are Here sounds really interesting. I am fascinated by invasive species and how they spread. I will have to check that out. Grounded should be interesting to a lot of kids. It sounds like quite an adventure. Thanks for your always thorough reviews.

  6. It's always such a fun coincidence when books with similar premise come out at around the same time. Grounded seems fascinating and it'll be interesting to read after You Are Here.