Monday, December 04, 2023

MMGM- Backcountry and Tasty with Bonus Blather!

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Goebel, Jenny. Backcountry
December 5, 2023 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Emily is a good athlete, and loves playing volleyball, so when she doesn't feel well during the game, it's serious. Her father thinks she should tough it out to finish the game, and since she sees so little of him (he's a busy realtor), she goes back in. The game doesn't end well, and Emily ends up in the hospital. The diagnosis; Type 1 diabetes. She's determined to deal with the disease head on, especially since she and her father have a backcountry ski trip planned in a few weeks. Her family is lucky enough to have the resources to get her a diabetic alert dog who is already trained, and once Molly joins their family, she'll be going on the trip as well. Emily's mother is concerned, and rightly so. She makes sure to supervise the packing of emergency provisions, since Emily and her father will be skiing from cabin to cabin and be well out of range of all civilization, much less hospitals. Emily reluctantly agrees to this micromangaing, but doesn't think there will be any problems. The trip starts out well, and Emily is glad to reconnect with her father and impress him with her athleticism. The first cabin is nice, and Emily even picks up a book about a ski soldier during World War II who had to survive in the wilderness. When a storm is predicted, Emily's mother wants the two to come home, but they persist. Of course, shortly after this, in near white out conditions, Emily's father disappears. It turns out he has fallen a short distance and broken his leg badly. Emily skis ahead to the next cabin, but things start to snowball downhill. The cold interferes with phone batteries as well as diabetic testing equipment, and pretty much anything that could go wrong DOES go wrong. Emily keeps on top of her blood sugar levels, since she knows that if anything happens to her, no one can save her father. She manages to get him to a run down cabin, since the next one on their route is too far away, and gets him warm and fed. She even goes back out at night with Molly to retrieve his backpack, only to find that animals have opened it up and her extra insulin is ruined. This makes getting help even more crucial. Will Emily be able to get to civilization before she experiences a health emergency?
Strengths: Survival stories are always popular with my students (think Carter's Not If I Save You First and Durst's The Lake House). Dog books fly off the shelves. If there were any books about volleyball, those would be in great demand. This also has a worried mom, a distant dad, and an exciting cross country ski trip, so it will absolutely sell itself. The story moves along quickly. My favorite part is how Emily manages her own diabetes and is pretty smart about most of her choices-- except for the one to go on the trip! Young readers will think this is a great idea, but I am super risk averse and kept thinking "No, no, no!" at every turn. That sense of the inevitable crises makes this a real page turner. 
Weaknesses: I'm torn-- I really wanted to see more of Emily's struggles leading up to her diagnosis, and more of her volleyball playing, but that's not really what the book is about. Maybe we need a completely different book about a volleyball player, maybe even one with diabetes. THAT'S a book that would be popular. 
What I really think: This should be in hardcover. It is an excellent book with many topics my students ask for and will be popular with readers who like Terry Lynn Johnson and Rebecca Behrens' survival books. Definitely purchasing. Order extra copies of this if you are hosting a Scholastic book fair. 

Elliott, Victoria Grace. Tasty: A History of Yummy Experiments
December 5, 2023 by Random House Graphic
E ARC provided by Netgalley

If you enjoyed Yummy: A History of Desserts (and if you haven't read it, I highly recommend you do!), you will love this look at other forms of food that started out as a little bit of a surprise. The main sections are cheese, pickles, gelatin, processed foods, and sodas, and each is a HUGELY deep dive into the subject! Each chapter starts out with a map of where products were developed, and it was interesting that  not a lot of cheese was developed in North America. (Except, of course, Velveeta. Which does make an awfully good mac and cheese!) I loved the illustrations, and was impressed by the research that went into this; there's a nice bibliography at the end. 

I could have done without the sprites, but my students seem to enjoy them. There are some recipes, and I'm definitely going to have to try to make Gooey Butter Cake. Definitely will purchase a copy of this since I am such a fan of food history, but personally like the format of Kim Mill Zachmans' There's No Ham in Hamburger better. My students always prefer a graphic format. 

I did make the Gooey Butter Cake, which was just a little... weird. It was okay, but I don't think I need to make it again! 

Whew. 2023 has been something. After my daughter got married, I spent the summer dreading my class reunion. I didn't sew much. The reunion was blah and reinforced my thought that I was invisible in high school, and have remain so despite being The Most Knowledgeable Middle School Librarian in the US. Have any other school librarians read all of the fiction books in their collections? I think not. Yet, people who read a fraction of what I do (and don't review!) have tens of thousands more Twitter followers.

Planning the perfectly wonderful author visit with Tommy Greenwald and NCTE made me anxious, which was silly. We've still been having a lot of trouble getting classes covered when teachers are out, but that is getting better. I've also been battling a LOT of brain fog, for no apparently good reason. 

Since we have fewer students, I'm don't spend my days in a frantic haze of work. There are even times when I SIT DOWN. In the middle of the day! This makes me worry a bit; am I working hard enough? 

Language arts classes still visit once a week; the curriculum is solid, and students still read even though we have Advisory instead of Sustained Silent Reading. I help lots of students with homework. I've given up wearing skirts every day, since wearing dress shoes and jackets with jeans is a step above the joggers and tennis shoes the young'uns wear. 

Things are good. Steady. I'm hoping to get back up to speed this month, since I only read 36 books in November. Do some sewing over winter break and hit January with renewed vigor. It's a plan. 


  1. Best wishes for your new goals, Karen. Sometimes life just hits us hard! And like always, thanks for the reviews. I like the idea of showing a kid taking care of their medical needs. I had a few students with diabetes through the years & it seemed to help them feel good to do much themselves.

  2. You go girl! I'm always impressed with your reviews and the quantity of books you read. There are thousands of us like me who aren't Twitter users but faithfully visit your blog every week. Enjoy reloading for the new year and Happy MMGM!

  3. You are right about survival books being popular. I need to get my hands on a copy of Backcountry.

  4. I can see that Backcountry would be popular with kids, but like you, I get really anxious just reading about kids heading off into potentially dangerous situations.

  5. Enjoyed the little glimpse and your thoughts of your year so far. May your reading finish strong this year!

  6. would you like a bluesky invite code? I'm enjoying it over there....