MG -The Losers at the Center of the Galaxy

Heider, Mary Winn. The Losers at the Center of the Galaxy. Little, Brown & Company, 2021. 978-0-759-55542-6. $16.99. Grades 5-8.

For freckled-faced, dark haired Louise and Winston Volpe, the center of the galaxy is the 50-yard line of a football field in honor of their ex-quarterback player and now missing father, Lenny Volpe. Life was tough before their father disappeared, a victim of too many head-crushing plays as a Chicago Horribles team member, Mr. Volpe had trouble with his cognitive skills and executive brain function. After three years gone, the siblings burrow into their respective worlds: Winston taking up the tuba and Louise initiating a Science Club in order to experiment with ways to find her father. Flipping back and forth between eighth-grade Winston’s and seventh-grade Louise’s life, author Mary Winn Heider creates sympathetic characters trying to unravel an incredible mystery. Because their mother is buried in work and debt, the brother and sister are on their own a lot and the story takes place mostly at school. Winston’s friend and fellow tuba player, Frankie—who has a pigment condition—insists that the faculty of Subito School are an organized crime ring, and Winston willingly joins the investigation, spurred on when the teachers throw their tubas off the school’s roof. Louise, on the other hand, rejects the overtures of friendship from the other nerdy club members, even after they volunteer to use club dues for a bake sale to recoup the ruined tubas. She is more determined in perfecting a glowing GLOP cream and freeing the Chicago Horribles Football Team’s mascot, a bear. She does, however, develop an appreciation for pop star Kittentown Dynamo’s music. The two worlds collide at the football stadium’s half-time show: tubas, sinister teachers, Kittentown Dynamo, and the bear. Though the infiltration of the stadium and the bear rescue are far-fetched, they are entertaining. To balance this, the ending of this realistic fiction is not all wrapped up, but the characters do come to a healthy place in their family relationships and acceptance of their father’s demise.

THOUGHTS: When I started this book, I saw thin traces of other books in The Losers at the Center of the Galaxy: a less cerebral Wrinkle in Time where the daughter uses science to try to find her father;  James Ponti’s  City Spies where the kids are free-roaming, figuring their own solutions to problems and the adults are “other” and on the fringe; Jacqueline Woodson’s  Before the Ever After where the father has brain injuries from sports. Heider, though makes this book her own and uses unusual plot twists to lead these grieving siblings who are focused on their own sadness back to each other. Perhaps fourth graders would like this book, too; I extended the grade to 8 because Winston and Frankie are eighth graders and seem like they are headed for more than friends status by the book’s conclusion (he lets Frankie comfort him with a hug and he is thrilled to take Frankie to the Aquarium Dance).

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

Elem. – Animal Rescue Friends

Hashimoto, Meika & Gina Loveless. Animal Rescue Friends. Andrews McMeel Publishing. 2021. 978-1-5248-6806-2. $9.99. Gr. 2-4.

What do you do when you find a stray dog that is friendly, smart, but has no collar? While keeping the dog may be what you want, is it the best choice to make? Maddie makes this discovery when she finds a lost dog she calls Boyd. While she wants to keep Boyd, her mother has her take Boyd to Animal Rescue Friends, an animal sanctuary. There, Maddie will find a place for Boyd, a new job for her helping animals, and even may make a friend or two!

THOUGHTS: This Epic! Original book follows several kids who all help or rescue animals in some way! This book is for the pet lovers of the world, with relatable situations, all presented in a fun comic-book style format.

Graphic Novel         Rachel Burkhouse, Otto-Eldred SD

Elem. – Saucy

Kadohata, Cynthia. Saucy. Atheneum Books, 2020. 978-1-534-47597-7. 304 p. $17.99. Grades 3-6. 

As one of a set of quadruplets, Becca frequently worries about who she is, and what is her “thing.” Her brother Jammer is an obsessive ice hockey player. Her brother K.C. is a math and science genius, who theorizes our existence is actually a simulation designed by another life form. And other brother, Bailey, composes music. But Becca just can’t figure out what makes her unique. So when she finds a dying piglet while on a family walk one evening, she believes she has found her calling: saving Saucy, so dubbed because of her obvious attitude. But Becca quickly learns that sickly pigs require expensive veterinary care, and healthy pigs are rambunctious and destructive. And grow rapidly. But Becca, having spent her 12 years trying not to take up time and money, because Jammer’s hockey and Bailey’s medical needs (he is in a wheelchair due to cerebral palsy) take up so much of the family’s resources, feels she’s owed some leeway. Besides, everyone in the family is falling in love with Saucy. Eventually, the siblings determine Saucy escaped from a large commercial pig farm, and Saucy is sent to live at a nearby pig sanctuary. The story is lovely, slice-of-life Kadohata writing (she shows off her hockey-mom chops again), and the relationship between the four siblings is sweet and caring. As different as the four are, they support each other, a revelation that seems to surprise Becca, who is used to feeling outside and overlooked. The conditions of large pig farms are detailed when Becca and her brothers sneak into a building one night to see where Saucy came from. While the transition from sweet animal story to commercial meat producing exposé is a bit awkward, readers will no doubt be properly appalled.

THOUGHTS: A sweet story perfect for readers who love animals, or are realistic fiction fans. Any reader with siblings will sympathize with how Becca feels out-of-step with her brothers. A first choice for most libraries.

Realistic Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD