Monday, September 18, 2023

MMGM-The Perfect Pitch and Pentagon Escape

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Greenwald, Tommy. The Perfect Pitch (Good Sports League #2)
September 12, 2023 by Amulet Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this companion to The Ultimate Goal, we meet Annabella, who is a very busy kid! She's the pitcher for the West Harbor Smashers, but also helps out at the Animal Rescue Center where her equally busy single mom works. Her mom fully supports Annabella's multiple activities, and while she can't make every game, is always there to transport her daughter. Fellow pitcher, Sadie thinks that Annabella isn't serious enough, especially when she misses an extra practice to buy a birthday present for a friend, and even admonishes her for eating cake! When Annabella wants tobe considered for the role of Scar in her school's production of The Lion King, she feels that Coach Grandy will be supportive, and there don't seem to be too many overlaps that will interfere with her participation in either activity. Annanella's mother does caution her not to overextend herself, but knows how enthusiastic and energetic her daughter is. When Annabella injures her shoulder in a playground race, Sadie is furious that her teammate's poor choice might negatively effect the team, and the two get into a scuffle. Coach Grandy is not happy, and punishes the team with an extra practice the day before their big game... on the same night as the opening of the play! Annabella makes her case, since she's only missed one other practice, but the coach is firm. Talking to other friends at school, including Trini (who is a dancer and in the play) and Ben (who played soccer in The Ultimate Goal), she comes up with a plan to accomplish both activities using some subterfuge, aka lying. Trini's dog is let loose near the soccer field without its collar, and when Annabella corrals it, she tells the coach the dog must have run away from an Animal Rescue event, and she'll return it. She makes it to the performance and does well, even saving the day with her softball skills when the branch of a prop tree falls. The next day, the game goes well, and she gives Sadie a pep talk so Sadie can continue pitching. Later, at the Animal Rescue event, Annabella's deception comes to light when the Coach rescues Trini's dog. An honest discussion about expectations is had by all, and both Annabella and the Coach apologize after understanding the circumstances that brought each to make their decisions. Things are looking up for Annabella's activities going forward, and the Coach even adopts a dog!

If you deal with 3rd-8th grade readers, you'll know that sports are super important to them, and that they are frequently trying to balance all of the many activities in their lives. It's not unusual for students to do a sport and a musical group and other activities as well, and juggling these things takes a lot of understanding. Coach Grandy is focused on winning a championship, so lays down some harsh penalties, but in the end sees the error of her ways. For Annabella's part, she is very dedicated to both of her activities, and aside from having to miss a practice for the opening night of the play, has only missed one other practice. As a former coach, I would say that her dedication is not in question, and that coaches should know better to have extra practices without a week's notice! While Annabella lies in order to avoid a confrontation, it's great to see that honest conversation arises as a result. 

The drama with Sadie was well done. There is a lot of rivalry among players, and some middle grade sports enthusiasts take things very seriously. While Annabella likes to do different activities and have fun, Sadie is dedicated to her pitching. This makes it even harder for her to see Annabella do better, since she is eating cake and having fun instead of focusing on building skills. I'd love to see more of this type of conflict in middle grade sports books. 

While many middle grade books kill off parents, it is far more realistic to have a hard working parent who has to put in hours at two jobs. Matheson's Select shows a parent who is struggling to get to games for other reasons, but Annabella's mom's situation is one that is repeated all over the US. It's great that Annabella understands that her mom needs to work, and still feels supported. She also tries to support her mom by attending the Animal Rescue Event. 

If you know readers who love graphic novels, this is a fantastic choice, because graphic novels about sports, while slowly increasing, are few in number. Vamos' illustrations have a lot of emotion and action behind them, and will definitely increase readership in these titles. While I'm not a huge fan of the narrator, Frederick Ulysses Nimbleshank (FUN), I can see why the choice was made to directly address the fact that youth sports often take an ugly turn into super serious parental and coach mismanagement. 

This series has so much to recommend it, but I worry that teachers and librarians don't have it on their radars because they aren't sports fans themselves. If you're in the business of recommending books to young readers, it's critically important to read what THEY want to read. Pick up these books for your classroom or school library and read them for yourself. Given these fantastic covers, you won't really need to recommend them to anyone, but there is a great message in addition to the humor and appealing pictures that will delight the inner ten year old in everyone!

London, Alex. Search and Rescue: Pentagon Escape
September 19, 2023 by Scholastic Inc.
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Mikey is very excited to be going to work with his father, a civilian contractor who has worked on tech projects like Y2K and others at the Pentagon. He has a class projects on a US landmark, so is thrilled when Sgt. Guinsler, his father's boss who used to give tours of the facility, offers to take him around. It's even more exciting since they are there on the anniversary of the groundbreaking of this military location, which occurred on 9/11/41. Guinsler is a fun guy who tells lots of dad jokes, and gives a very complete (if unclassified!) tour. They meet Lena, who who is a navy vet who has brought her baby to work that day because she couldn't find a babysitter, and even the army librarian, Ann! Soon, however, there are disturbing images on the televisions scattered around; a plane has crashed into the World Trade Center. When a second one crashes, the Pentagon is put on high alert, because this seems like an attack. Of course, before too long, Mikey is involved in a devastating explosion. He manages to locate Lena's baby Zachary and reunite the two, but getting out of the burning building proves difficult. Sgt. Guinsler surfaces, but there are some people, like a man trapped under a copier, whom Mikey can't help. His father has been seen alive, and when Mikey doesn't see him in the courtyard he's been successfully evacuated to, he goes back in despite the warnings of people like Chad, who helped him. In alternating chapters, we are introduced to Sage, a search and rescue dog who is brought to the Pentagon. Sage doesn't usually work while a disaster is still unfolding, but when Mikey goes into the building, Sage is sent to find him. Eventually, Mikey and his father are safe, and Mikey learns an important lesson about not complicating the rescue process or jeopardizing rescue workers by not following instructions. 
Strengths: 9/11 is a historical event that is still of interest to young readers, who now frequently have teachers who were in middle school in 2001. While there are titles that describe the events surrounding the 9/11 attacks and the aftermath, like Bermudez's Big Apple Diaries or Rhodes Towers Falling, what my students really want to read are books like Arash and and Reedy's  Enduring Freedom, Tarshis' I Survived the Attacks of September 11 or Gratz' Ground Zero. Most of these books are concerned with what happened in New York City, so it's fascinating to see that day unfold at the Pentagon. Not only that, but how many of us will ever get a tour of the Pentagon? There are lots of great details about what it is like to work in that environment, although not so many that it will compromised national security! The details about how to survive in a building that has been attacked and is on fire are great, and while Mikey's attempts to rescue his father are ill-considered, I loved that there is a good discussion about what to do if that situation ever arises! The characters are all appealing, and I'm glad that the ones we care about make it to safety. Sage's viewpoint, with all of the smells and dog interests, will appeal to readers who like books with search and rescue animals, like Mason and Steven's Rescue Dogs or Sutter's Soldier Dogs.
Weaknesses: Paperback only, which makes no sense. Have already put two of the FollettBound copies of this on my order for fall. Paying Follett $7 per copy to put that hardcover on, but would much rather have sent the money to Scholastic for a actual dust jacketed hardcover. 
What I really think: There is still room for a lot more 9/11 books. If we're seeing WWII books 80 years on, I suspect that this will go on for a while. I don't know that I have seen a book set in about 2011, about a child who was a baby when a parent was killed. That would be an interesting one. Like Reedy or Gratz's books with alternate viewpoints, a writer could contrast the day of 9/11 with the issues going on in 2011. Just a thought. Definitely purchasing. London does such great military books! 


  1. Both are new to me, will especially find The Perfect Pitch since a granddaughter is a pitcher for her team! I imagine she had no idea there would be a book about this! Thanks, Karen!

  2. The Good Sports League sounds great. It is a new-to-me series so I will definitely check it out. I could always use more great sports books.

  3. Both sound very interesting. Thanks for sharing and Happy MMGM to you!

  4. Both of these sound terrific. I'm particularly interested in Search and Rescue: Pentagon Escape. Thanks for the reviews.

  5. I haven't read either of the books in this series, but have enjoyed many of the author's other titles. You are right about kids having busy schedules and in such diverse areas. I've added this book to my growing TBR list thanks to your excellent review. Have a great week!