MG – Falling Short

Cisneros, Ernesto. Falling Short. Quill Tree Books, 2022. 978-0-062-88172-4. 292 p. $16.99. Grades 6-8.

Sixth graders, Isaac Castillo and Marco Honeyman, are best friends, next door neighbors, and complete opposites. Isaac is a tall, basketball star who struggles in school; smart as a whip, Marco gets mistaken for a kindergartner because of his short stature. What both of them share is mutual love and care and problematic fathers. Unable to cope with his alcoholism, the loving but troubled Mr. Castillo is estranged from his wife and son. On the other hand, Marco’s parents are divorced, and his father would rather write an alimony check than visit his son. The boys’ warm friendship stands up to the pressure when the pair start Mendez Middle School in California. Marco classifies the different students like fish, some are aggressives and some are community minded. In Falling Short, author Ernesto Cisneros makes a solid case that being community minded is possible and preferable. Having almost failed fifth grade, Latinx Isaac has to prove that he can make the mark, and perhaps ease some of his parents’ stress. Mexican-American and Jewish Marco, too, wishes to impress his neglectful father, a jock, who dismisses Marco’s scholastic achievements. The basketball team is a choice that fits both boys’ needs: Isaac can coach Marco in baller moves; Marco can be Isaac’s loyal study buddy. Determined to escape the taunts of the school bullies–especially basketball eighth grade standout, the looming Byron–Marco takes on becoming a basketball player as an intellectual pursuit. Motivated by Marco’s relentless efforts to learn how to play ball, Isaac disciplines himself to complete all homework assignments. Their bro’mance gets them through their respective feelings of inadequacy in either sports or studies and their family issues. Marco skips an elective course and completes Isaac’s missed homework assignment. Isaac convinces Coach Chavez that Marco will be a valuable player on the team. Told in alternating voices that mix feeling with humor, the story reaches a climax when Isaac’s dad suffers a car accident while driving drunk right before the big basketball tournament. To add to the tension, Marco’s errant dad comes to see him play at the tournament. Reading how these true friends push each other to achieve their goals and affirm themselves in the process imitates the deft moves of a satisfying game and does not fall short.

THOUGHTS: Author Ernesto Cisneros mixes lots of details in Falling Short that cater to the typical middle school student: description of basketball plays, mention of well-known basketball players, team spirit, an explosive farting episode. It also touches on the awkwardness and helplessness kids can feel when dealing with parental flaws. The book includes some nice touches that point to a better world: Coach Chavez throws Byron, the bully, off the team when he finds out Byron humiliated Marco; Marco has a short teacher who can be both self-deprecating and inspirational; there is a girl on the basketball team; some of the other team members also look past Marco’s lack of height and see his kindness. Spanish phrases are scattered throughout the book.

Realistic Fiction          Bernadette Cooke, School District of Philadelphia

Elem. – How Big is Your Brave?

Soukup, Ruth. How Big is Your Brave? ZonderKidz, 2020. $17.99. Unpaged. Grades PreK-2. 

Zippy the bunny dreams of traveling to space one day but feels uncertain about trying Space Camp. With some gentle encouragement from her family, Zippy heads to Space Camp even though she’s scared. Mom tells her, “Being brave doesn’t mean you’re never scared…courage means taking an action, even when you feel afraid.” Zippy flourishes at camp, making friends and learning a lot. When an accident derails her plans for Launch Day, Zippy feels ready to give up. Dad reminds her that “You can choose to give up or choose to keep going. It’s all up to you.” When Launch Day arrives, Zippy’s Veggie Vrrrooom wins second place and a special award for most creative design. While the title phrase never features in the story, the message is one that all kids will understand in some way, whether it’s facing scary situations with courage or working through challenges.

THOUGHTS: Zippy’s friendly face and relatable story will win over readers.

Picture book                    Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD

Elem. – Breaking the Ice: The True Story of the First Woman to Play in the National Hockey League

Bullaro, Angie. Breaking the Ice: The True Story of the First Woman to Play in the National Hockey League. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2020. $18.99. Unpaged. Grades 3-6. 

Manon Rhéaume began playing backyard hockey with her brothers before the age of 5, but it wasn’t until her dad’s team needed a goalie that Manon started playing on a real team. In fact, Manon’s father told her to keep the goalie mask on before taking the ice because people weren’t ready to see a girl play on a boys’ team in 1977. By 1984, Manon’s talent spoke for itself. She was the first girl to play in the prestigious Quebec International Pee-Wee Hockey Tournament, and she continued to prove critics wrong as she played at higher and higher levels of boys’ and men’s hockey. In 1992 Manon became the first woman to play a game in any of the four men’s major US professional sports when she played in a preseason game with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Angie Bullaro’s picture book biography nicely details Manon’s hard work, courage, and perseverance in making her hockey dreams come true. An Afterword by Manon herself encourages readers to work hard no matter what, saying “Don’t let ‘no’ stop you.”

THOUGHTS: An interesting addition to picture book biography collections.

796.962 Hockey          Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD
Biography

Elem. – Little Red Sleigh

Guendelsberger, Erin. Little Red Sleigh. Sourcebooks Wonderland, 2020. $13.70. Unpaged. Grades K-3. 

The little red sleigh wishes to be something bigger, something stronger, something grander–Santa’s sleigh. Others tell her that this will never happen, but she is determined to make it to the North Pole and convince Santa that she can do the job. Along the tough journey, she is helped along by a beautiful, grand train and a bright yellow truck, who tell her that life happens one step at a time–she has the right spirit but must employ some patience, too. When a major snowfall hits, the sleigh stops in a village where she enjoys a wonderful day of sledding with a little girl. Ultimately, the little red sleigh decides that she must let her life happen one step at a time too, and she stays with the little girl (perhaps before going on to bigger things with Santa). An encouraging note from the big man in a red suit doesn’t hurt, either!

THOUGHTS: Elizaveta Tretyakova’s beautiful illustrations turn this basic but sweet holiday story into something bigger and more grand.

Picture Book            Lindsey Long, Lower Dauphin SD

MG – Mary Seacole: Bound for the Battlefield

Rubin, Susan Goldman. Mary Seacole: Bound for the Battlefield. Candlewick, 2020. 978-0-763-67994-1. 48 p. $17.99. Grades 5-8.

The true nursing hero of the Crimean War was born in Jamaica and wanted to help others with natural remedies, kindness, and good food since she was young. Mary Seacole is an unsung hero of the nursing world, and this book tells the story of Mary’s interest in medicine from a young girl, watching her mother, the doctress, and practicing on her dolls, pets, and herself to be able to follow in her mother’s footsteps. The frequent full-page illustrations are colorful and a way for a young reader to imagine what Mary’s life was like. Although her story has a lot of focus on healthcare, this book is just as much about prejudice in various countries during the 1800s. In 48 pages, the reader can learn about the tenacity of one person and her ability to help all in any way she could. There is a brief mention of the first modern war correspondent and how Mami Seacole’s fame spread through many countries. The book includes source notes and a bibliography.

THOUGHTS: If you have any biographical books on Florence Nightingale in your library, this needs to sit right beside it on the shelf. Mary Seacole’s story of determination and perseverance is one with which all students should be familiar. This book could find a home in elementary through high school libraries.

973 Biography          Samantha Hull, Ephrata Area SD