Book Review: MALCOLM AND ME, by Robin Farmer

Wow, Roberta is a 13 year old who is going through a lot during her last year of middle school! During her 8th grade year, she has a love/hate relationship with a number of important people in her life, including both her parents, her teacher Sister Elizabeth, and even with God himself.

At her Catholic school, although the number of Black students is growing, she is still a part of the minority, so when she questions some things about history out loud to Sister Elizabeth, she clashes with her teacher in a way that has Roberta wondering how’s she going to make it through the rest of the school year.  Then she also has to deal with the rift growing between her parents and her own relationship with each of them. Luckily, Roberta is finishing reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and is able to find parallels between Malcolm’s growth and her own. Plus, she always has the power of the pen to help her make sense of her thoughts and feelings. Readers who love to write poetry or in a journal or diary will be able to identify with Roberta as she uses her writing to help find her voice and to help her guide her decisions. She grows a lot as an individual throughout 8th grade, and comes to realize that although everything does not go exactly the way she wants, she can figure out how to adjust and still find happiness.

Personally, I feel like there are not a lot of historical fiction MG books that take place post-civil rights movement with Black characters front and center.  So the setting alone, including a small peek into Watergate, I think will help to fill in a gap in history for young readers. There are great descriptions of Roberta’s afro and her outfits that help to transport you back to the ’70s. And although there were times that Roberta’s behavior was frustrating to me, an adult, I can totally see how middle/high school students would identify with her and her choices. So for young readers who are also writers (this story is based on some experiences Farmer actually had), who are struggling to fit in, who are into Black History, or who are struggling with parental relationships at home, this may be the book for them.

Malcolm and Me by Robin Farmer was released in November of 2020, so it can be found wherever books are sold. Thank you to the publisher for giving MG Book Village a copy for review.

Deana Metzke, in addition to being a wife and mother of two, spent many years as a Literacy Coach, and is now an Elementary Teacher Instructional Leader for Literacy and Social Studies for her school district. In addition to occasionally sharing her thoughts here at MG Book Village, you can read more of her thoughts about kid lit and trying to raise children who are readers at raisingreaders.site or follow her on Twitter @DMetzke. She is also a member of #bookexcursion.

Book Review: GIRLS GARAGE: HOW TO USE ANY TOOL, TACKLE ANY PROJECT, AND BUILD THE WORLD YOU WANT TO SEE, by Emily Pilloton

I could spend this whole review listing all the people to whom I would recommend Girls Garage: How to Use Any Tool, Tackle Any Project, and Build the World You Want to See written by Emily Pilloton and illustrated by Kate Bingaman-Burt, because there are so many who would love this book. Pilloton is the founder of Girls Garage, which is a brick-and-mortar building in California where she helps girls “come together to do audacious, brave things as young builders.”  Since we cannot all be in California, Pilloton has gifted us with this book that is not only inspirational, but is also gives concrete steps for any girl who aspires to design and/or build. This informational book is arranged in a specific order to help the reader learn a few different things.

First there’s the “Safety and Gear” section, which is naturally where any girl will want to start reading. Then the bulk of the book, sections titled “Toolbox” and “Essential Skills” explore just about everything you need to know about the variety of materials one could use to build, including the different types of lumber (who knew there were three different types of manufactured wood?), and how to do many basic building skills, like painting a wall. The last section, called “Building Projects” is exactly that, a list of different projects, with all materials and step-by-step directions included. The best part? Sprinkled throughout the whole book are mini stories told about and by women who have been on this builder journey, that the reader can make connections to or be inspired by. 

Although one could, Girls Garage is not the type of book I imagine most girls will read from cover to cover, and I don’t think its meant to be that way.  However, the way that it is written, with Pilloton’s personal stories and advice throughout, I could see how one might read it cover to cover. Personally, I cannot say enough that I feel like this is an awesome reference guide that needs to be on many girls’ bookshelves, not just for when they want to put that frame on the wall, but for when they may need some inspiration to follow their dreams. As Pilloton says, “Our goal shouldn’t be to live without fear, but to acknowledge that fear is unavoidable and to act bravely in spite of those fears. Bravery is something you can practice, something you can choose.”

This book was released in June 2020, and I would like to thank the publisher for sharing an ARC for me to review!

Deana Metzke, in addition to being a wife and mother of two, spent many years as a Literacy Coach, and is now an Elementary Teacher Instructional Leader for Literacy and Social Studies for her school district. In addition to occasionally sharing her thoughts here at MG Book Village, you can read more of her thoughts about kid lit and trying to raise children who are readers at raisingreaders.site or follow her on Twitter @DMetzke. She is also a member of #bookexcursion.

Review: JUST LIKE JACKIE by Lindsey Stoddard

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You can call her Robinson, you can call her Rob (or even Robbie), but do NOT call her Robin. Alex learns the hard way that Robinson is fed up with him teasing her about her name, and the fact she doesn’t look like her African-American grandfather who raises her. When her short fuse leads to blows a second time, Robinson is sent to her counselor to help her deal with her anger issues, but a family tree project results in Robinson and Alex being put in the same counselling group for students that have challenges completing their tree. Robinson has no one on her tree except Grandpa. She doesn’t know her mom’s name, or how she died, and Grandpa won’t discuss it with her. Grandpa’s memory is getting tired, though, and he often has trouble remembering how to perform simple tasks. Robinson is determined to be his right hand so he can rest his brain, just like Harold is his left hand at his car repair shop. She helps him fix cars. She talks to customers so they won’t hear his words get mixed up. She turns on the signals in the truck so he knows which direction to turn. Robinson is afraid if she doesn’t take care of Grandpa, and get the information she wants about her mom very soon, that he may forget it altogether. As it becomes harder and harder to keep Grandpa’s memory issues a secret, Robinson learns that families are not just made up of the people to whom you’re related.

I can tell you already that this will be on my list of favorite MG reads for 2018. I love books that touch my heart, and watching Robinson try so hard to protect and care for Grandpa as his memory deteriorates from Alzheimer’s is heartbreakingly beautiful. There are too few MG books that focus on intergenerational relationships, like the special bond between a grandparent and grandchild, and this book does that so well. There are a number of supportive and encouraging adults who try to guide Robinson, and although she resists their help, their presence in the story is welcome. Her best friend, Derek, is a delightful, devoted young man, and Robinson’s instinct to protect him at all costs makes me wish everyone could know that kind of friendship. Despite the inevitable outcome of things to come for Robinson and Grandpa, the book ends on a hopeful note for Robinson, and I loved the powerful community there to support her.

This is a wonderful debut novel that I hope will find its way into all middle grade classroom and libraries this year, and I look forward to reading Lindsey’s next MG release, Right as Rain, in early 2019.

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Kathie is a children’s public librarian in Manitoba, Canada, where she lives with her husband and daughter. She is a member of the Manitoba Young Readers’ Choice Awards (MYRCA) Committee, and co-moderator at MG Book Village. She is passionate about sharing her love for middle grade literature. You can follow her on Instagram (@the_neverending_stack) and Twitter (@kmcmac74).