Saturday, June 24, 2023

Cartoon Saturday- Emma Hopper and Take a Hike

Spangler, Brie. Fox Point's Own Gemma Hopper
April 11, 2023 by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by the publisher

Gemma, her older brother Teddy, and her younger twin brothers live with their father in Rhode Island. Teddy is a fantastic baseball player, and is looking to attend the prestigious All Atlantic training school in Florida if all goes well. Things are a bit  rough at home, since their mother has left. Gemma is left to pick up a lot of the slack, going to the laundromat to wash clothes, cooking dinner, and looking after her brothers after school. She even helps Teddy train, pitching to him so he can practice hitting. Their father works double shifts, so is rarely home. Gemma has a good friend, Bailey, but they have some difficulties when Bailey wants to get into the popular crowd, which thinks will happen if Gemma introduces Zoe to her brother. Gemma is reluctant to do that, since she doesn't see the point and doesn't care about the popular crowd. It doesn't help that she has a major project for Ms. Riggs that involves family geneaology. Since her mother isn't in touch with the family at all, she can't ask her questions, and her father isn't home much. Bailey has an idea that Gemma can just make things up, since Ms. Riggs won't know the difference. Teddy feels a lot of pressure to go to All Atlantic, and feels like he is carrying most of the burden at home, which puts him and Gemma at odds. When he has Gemma pitch to him in front of coaches, she strikes him out with her unerring pitches, and a video of this goes viral, further alienating the two. Eventually, the two realize that they need to work together, and Teddy gets Gemma the opportunity to try out for scouts from All Atlantic. She gets in to the school on the promise of her fast ball, even though she doesn't know much else about the game. Are things now looking up for the family, even though Gemma realizes that her mother will never return?
Strengths: There are so many family problems, and so many ways that young people can have their worlds unsettled. Teddy and Gemma, who are about 14 and 12, are doing the best they can to keep their household together, even though Teddy claims that "the whole family eats like racoons in a dumpster". Taking care of the twins is a concern, but there is a helpful neighbor. While their father is often absent, Teddy and Gemma generally get along... until they don't. Gemma's problems with Bailey are completely realistic, and neither really understands what the other is going through. Ms. Riggs is a sympathetic teacher, although geneaology projects are now such a landmine that we haven't had any assigned at my school for at least five years. There's plenty of baseball, and the drawings, mainly rendered in shades of teal, is attractive. 
Weaknesses: Since this is a graphic novel, there is a lot of background information that is lacking. What exactly is All American? How did Teddy get picked for it? What happened with Gemma's mother? There is a very dramatic scene where Gemma comes to terms with her mother's absence, but we still don't get a lot of explanation due ot the format. 
What I really think: This is a good graphic novel to add to a small but growing selection of sports titles, including Dawson's The Fifth Quarter, Wilson's Play Like a Girl, and Tavares' Hoops

Stromoski, Rick. Take a Hike (Schnozzer and Tatertoes)
June 27, 2023 by Union Square Kids
Copy provided by the Publisher
In this early reader graphic novel, we meet good pals Schnozzer and Tatertoes. They live together, which is a good thing, because the convivial and impetuous Tatertoes benefits from the calm and thoughtful practices of Schnozzer. After a rainy day game of "Mother May I", Tatertoes becomes obsessed with the idea of finding his mother, whom the two discover was last seen in Buzzard's Breath, which is only 11 inches away on the map. Without a car or funds to get a cab (or even a cell phone!), the two take off on their journey with Tatertoes' bike and Schnozzer on rollerskates being dragged behind. Their preparations also don't include food, money, or a tent, so they are involved in all manner of difficult situations, made worse by Tatertoes' tenuous grasp on basic instructions. At one point, he hears Schnozzer say "NO spiders" and hears "NOSE spiders", so spends the night sleeping with pinecones shoved up his nostrils. They come across a number of folks from whom they ask directions, and the answer is always the same. "Follow your nose". Will this be enough to get them to Tatertoes's mother?
Strengths: While elementary students love graphic novels, many of them have a lot of tiny, dense text that would challenge even strong readers, and are often on topics that don't quite appeal to first grade sensibilities. (Origami Yoda and Wimpy Kid books are good examples of this. Definitely middle grade content, but sold in so many elementary school book fairs!) Tatertoes' Amelia Bedelia-like personality will have young readers giggling and rolling their eyes along with Schnozzer. The illustrations are bright and clear, and filled with many good details. One of my favorite parts was Tatertoes' yoyo, which seems like an ill-considered thing to bring as your only supply, but which ends up saving the day. Guffaws abound, adventure is had, and Tatertoes gets a happy ending. 
Weaknesses: Wouldn't the spiders crawl in Tatertoes' mouth if he was sleeping with pine cones in his nose? Would that be better or worse? As a crabby adult, I sort of wanted to slap Tatertoes, but I would feel quite differently if I were reading this alongside a kindergartener. That would lead to some fun conversations, as well as attempts to put a handerchief wrapped bundle on a stick. 
What I really think: This is a fun addition to any elementary library where tales like Murphy's Cosmic Pizza Party, Braddock's Stinky Cecil, Vernon's Dragonbreath and Eaton's Flying Beaver Brothers are popular. 

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