Wednesday, March 06, 2024

Pedal, Balance, Steer and Summer at Squee

Kirkfield, Vivian and Jay, Allison (illus.)
Pedal, Balance, Steer: Annie Londonderry, the First Woman to Cycle Around the World
February 20, 2024 by Calkins Creek
Copy provided by the Publisher

Since children's bicycles weren't available until 1920 (a fact I did not know until reading this book!), Annie Cohen, who was born in Latvia in 1870, wouldn't have pedaled her way around her neighborhood the way today's children might. It wasn't until 1894, when she needed money, that she decided to enter a contest to bike around the world and had to learn this skill! Bicycles were not as comfortable and ergonomic as they are today, and she started out her journey in the clothing of the time; long skirts, a corset, and all of the other heavy trimmings! Rethinking this, she set out again wearing bloomers, with scant supplies but an iron will. Along with undertaking the travel, she had to earn $5,000 along the way, which she managed to get through speaking engagements and sponsorships. She managed the arduous and dangerous journey with some help along the way, and managed to finish 14 days ahead of schedule! 

Jay's artwork, like her illustrations in Pitch Perfect and Persistent! has a nice folk art fel that adds a vintage vibe to the tale, and the robin egg blue and tan color palette nicely captures Annie's time outdoors. The details of the various destinations, as well as the vintage bicycle, are vividly represented as well. 

This really piqued my curiousity; Annie's best bet was to leave her three children at home and take off on a bicycle with just a change of underwear? This is similar to the set up of the real life journey that inspired Dagg's The Year We Were Famous or Speno's The Great American Foot Race:Ballyhoo for the Bunion Derby! but still seems.. not cost efficient? Thanks to Kirkfield's storytelling, however, I want to know more! 

Macy's fantastic 2011 Wheels of Change: How Women Rode the Bicycle to Freedom (With a Few Flat Tires Along the Way is for readers who are a bit older, but Pedal, Balance, Steer is a great way to get young readers interested in the history of bicycling, and a great lesson in resilience for young girls! Pair this with other books that showcase women's determination to travel despite the odds, like Rockliff' and Hooper's Around America to Win the Vote: Two Suffragists, a Kitten, and 10,000 miles

Wang, Andrea. Summer at Squee
March 5, 2024 by Kokila
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Phoenny Fang and her best friend Lyrica are super excited for the summer camp their mothers run,  Summertime Chinese Culture, Wellness, and Enrichment Experience (SCCWEE for short, pronounced “Squee”). It's always been Phee's happy place, where she can explore her Chinese culture and also do a lot of her favorite activity, sewing, but this year feels different. Her older brother is a Counselour in Training, and the girls who are usually in a group together are split up because there are some new girls. The new campers all seem to be cousins, since their Chinese names seem to match, but they are all cagey about their relationship, and one, McKenna is just downright rude. It turns out that the new campers have all been adopted by US families, and are a bit resentful. Phee loves speaking Mandarin, doing traditional crafts, games, and sports, and is hurt that the new girls don't necessarily want to participate. She's also crushing hard on Harrison, her brother's friend and fellow CIT who has just moved to the US from Hong Kong. He's only about a year older, and Phee thinks he might be interested in McKenna. There's a lot of stuff to do at the camp, and a final show to prepare for, but the campers have to also deal with online trolls who say racist things about the Squee posts on social media. Some on the counselors try to locate the perpetrators and bring them to justice, but the experience leaves everyone in the camp shaken. 
Strengths: There aren't a lot of books about adoptees from China (except for the 2012 Red Thread Sisters by Peacock), and I love the idea of a summer camp that is culture based. The camp is a huge amount of fun, but also has plenty of drama. Not only is there the rivalry with the angry McKenna and the crush with Harrison, but there are also other campers with different sexual identities who are trying to figure out their own crushes. The camp is located on a college campus, which is interesting for those of us who only went to camp out in the woods! Being the daughter of someone who runs the camp would be intriguing, and Phee's struggles during her last year as a camper with the changes that have occurred will resonate with childre who find that their own worlds are changing. 
Weaknesses: At 320 pages, this packed in a LOT of characters and a lot of activities on top of a wealth of information about Chinese culture as well as racism and prejudice. This was all good stuff, but it would have helped the story move more quickly if there had been fewer things like Phee's allergic reaction to a weasel bristle art brush and detailed descriptions of her sewing projects. 
What I really think: There's been a significant decline in the number of adoptions from countries outside the US; it seemed like we'd had fewer such children at my school, and statistics so seem to show that. This is a good choice for readers who liked this author's The Many Meaning of Meilan or camp books like Matson's Firefly Summer or Soderberg's Sky Ropes

Lin, Grace. Chinese Menu: The History, Myths, and Legends Behind Your Favorite Foods
September 12, 2023 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Public library copy

This larger format book (8.95 x 0.91 x 10.4 inches) is shelved in the 641 section (food) of my public library, but I would put a copy in the 398.2 section (folktales). There is information about the origins and history of a lot of different food, and then folk tales related to it, but no recipes, and the folktale sections far outweigh the food sections. 

This would be a great book if you needed more Chinese folktales, and is worth having for the food timeline alone. This would also be perfect for the campers in Wang's Summer of Squee

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