Monday, November 20, 2023

MMGM- Curlfriends and Native American Heritage Month

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 
Miller, Sharee. Curlfriends.
October 10, 2023 by Little, Brown Ink
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this graphic novel, Charlie and her parents move back to the parents' hometown near New York City. Her father was in the air force and now has a home renovation business, and her mother is a pediatrician. Charlie has researched cool new tween styles and decided that she needs to change her look. She ditches the cartoon tees and glasses, "tames" her hair, and copies looks from magazines. She's feeling good about her look, but has water spilled on her as she enters the building. Nola comes to the rescue and braids her hair, and also lets her sit with her in the cafeteria. They are joined by Cara and Ella. Ella rubs Charlie the wrong way, and she worries that this dynamic will jeopardize her place in the group. The four end up working on a school project together, so Charlie starts to spend a lot of time with them. She worries when one of the girls recognizes one of her outfits as lifted in its entirety from  a teen magazine. After falling in gym class, Charlie gets help from Conn, who is very cute and turns out to be Cara's brother. During a thrifting trip, Ella thinks that Charlie should buy some overalls, but since the magazines said that they were no longer a cool style, Charlie says no to them. The day ends disastrously when Charlie tries to drink boba tea, which she doesn't like, and ends up throwing up! Having the girls over to her house to work on a project goes fairly well until they open her closet and find all of the stuffed animals and cartoon character posters that she has taken down because they didn't seem cool. Mortified, she stays home all weekend and even pretends to be sick on Monday. It doesn't help that Charlie's parents are so comfortable in the town, and seem to know everyone. Eventually, Charlie comes clean to her new friends and apologizes for hiding her true self from them. They understand, the project is a success, and HOPEFULLY, the Curlfriends will return for another adventure. 
Strengths: Miller has a great illustration style that we've seen in Princess Hair, and uses it to address one of THE most important topics in middle grade literature; personal identity. There are a lot of books that talk about being popular, but that's not what most of my students want. They want to have good friends, and to know who they are and share it with the world. New situations, like moving or going to a camp, are an excellent way to explore being another type of person. I'm not entirely sure that teen magazines are a thing, but let me tell you; after being the only one wearing shorts to freshman orientation, I didn't wear anything that I couldn't find in the pages of Seventeen. (Well, except that navy jumper. Really do like jumpers!) Charlie's struggles to figure out what face she wants to present to the world will resonate with many readers. Her parents are present and supportive. I appreciated the fact that she was able to make friends, and that most people were very nice to her. Her friends were very understanding, even when Charlie was hard to figure out. I loved that they went thrifting, but also appreciated the inclusion of a school project. Those can be harrowing! This would be a great set of characters for a graphic novel series. 
Weaknesses: We need more Conn. He shows up briefly and then we don't see him at all. 
What I really think: So many graphic novels involve major piles of tween angst, and that gets wearing. This has the angst, but it doesn't keep Charlie from having a decent time with her friends, and in general, this is an upbeat book with happy colors. Definitely purchasing! 

A student looking at my screen when I was working on book orders saw this cover and said "Do we have that book? It looks interesting," so the appeal is definitely there. 

I'm always SUPER careful about books featuring Native Americans, and Traci Sorell is always a good choice. Dr. Debbie Reese wasn't all that pleased with Clinton's first She Persisted book, but I think that the objections Reese raied seem to have been addressed. 

Sorell, Traci. and Starr, Arigon. Contenders: Two Native Baseball Players, One World Series
April 11, 2023 by Kokila
Copy provided by the publisher

In 1911, John Meyers of the New York Giants and Charles Bender of the Philadelphia Athletics faced off in the World Series. For the two Native American players, this was a groundbreaking event, but also showcased the racism and discrimination the two had faced throughout their careers. Bender, whose mother was Ojibwe, had been set to Indian boarding school in Philadelphia when he was only seven. Meyer whose mother was Cahuilla, lived on the tribal reservation near Riverside, California and was not able to finish school because he needed to work to support his family. Both had German-American fathers and loved baseball, but while Meyer was able to celebrate his culture, Bender was forced to adopt the culture of Christian white people. Bender and his older brother both ended up at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, where Bender's talent brought him to the attention of Pop Warner, the coach at the school. School also played an influential tole in Meyers career; he played for Dartmouth College until it was discovered that he hadn't graduated from high school. When both men made professional teams, they had to deal with a lot of ugliness from not only reporters and the public, but also their teammates. Bender had a long career in baseball, and was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1953, but Meyer eventually returned to work on the Cahuilla reservation. 
Strengths: This was an interesting look at the events and circumstances leading to a very particular point in time. I was surprised that there were two Native American baseball players at this time period, since it took decades more before other players of color took place in the game. The challenges that both men faced (and which were very typical of the time period) are well described for young readers who might not understand what the world was like at the turn of the last century. The racism and prejudice is addressed in a factual way that is appropriate for readers of picture books but still stark and unflinching. There is a helpful timeline as well as source notes at the end.  
Weaknesses: I had some trouble keeping the men straight in the book and wish there had been more visual cues to tell them apart.
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who like sports history books like Roberts and Galvão's 100 Baseball Legends Who Shaped Sports History: A Sports Biography Book for Kids and Teens Vernick and Chapman's All Star: How Larry Doby Smashed the Color Barrier in Baseball, Tavares' Growing Up Pedro, or Tate's Pigskins to Paintbrushes: The Story of Football-Playing Artist Ernie Barnes.

Goodluck, Laurel and Flint, Gillian (Illustrator)
She Persisted: Deb Haaland    
October 3, 2023 by Philomel Books
Copy provided by the publisher

Born in 1960, Deb Haaland was raised by her mother, a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna, and her father, a Norwegian American. Both were in the military, so the family, which included Deb's two sisters and brother, moved frequently. Her mother eventually worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs while her father fought in Vietnam, but they eventually ended up in Albquerque, New Mexico. Deb was able to spend time with her maternal grandmother, and learned how some relatives were sent to Indian boarding schools in the past. Deb hadn't planned on going to college, but eventually ended up going when she was 28 years old. It was not easy, especially with a baby daughter, but after graduation, she started her own company. This required a lot of traveling, so she eventually decided to attend law school, inspired by her mother's work and her own growing interest in politics. She helped with various campaigns, and in 2014, ran for the lieutenant governor of New Mexico. She did not win, but served as the democratic party chair for two years. In 2019, she and Sharice Davids became the first Native America women to be elected to Congress, and she continues to work hard for all of her constituents.   
Strengths: Goodluck is a Native writer, and this series is very conscientious about having writers who share a cultural connection with their topics. This is aimed at readers from 6-9 years old, and has an age appropriate positive spin on events without neglecting to mention the challenges that Haaland faced. There's a good balance between the depiction of Haaland's personal and professional life. Goodluck also includes a list of how young readers can persist, as well as a bibliography.  
Weaknesses: I don't normally buy biographies of people who are still alive and in the middle of their careers, since we can't know the direction their lives will take. Case in point: a 1984 biography of Michael Jackson the previous librarian at my school bought. I do understant the premise behind these books, but wish that they were take a more historical approach. Ada Deer was born in 1935, so she might be an option for future books. 
What I really think: This is a great choice for fans of this series, or of the Penguin Random House Who Was books and helps fill gaps in the biography section, where it can be hard to find well done titles about Native figures. 

I just want every biography of people my age to be like O'Shaughnessy's Sally Ride: A Photobiography of America's Pioneering Woman in Space; packed full of snapshots. The pictures exist, but I understand that there might be copyright issues stopping them from being used. 


  1. Anonymous8:21 PM EST

    Contenders and Curlfriends both sound like books I'd recommend. Thanks for the reviews. Carol Baldwin

  2. Three great books this week. I think Contenders sounds most interesting to me. Thanks for the heads up.