Elem./MG – Fred & Marjorie: A Doctor, a Dog, and the Discovery of Insulin

Kerbel, Deborah. Fred & Marjorie: A Doctor, a Dog, and the Discovery of Insulin. OwlKids Books, 2021.  56 p. 978-1-771-47411-5. $18.95 Grades 3-6.

Fred & Marjorie follows the story of Frederick Banting and his partner Charles Best who conducted research towards finding a cure for childhood diabetes. The doctors decide to use street dogs to test their theories on, and this graphic novel shows the successes and the failures of their scientific journey. The illustrations are well done and add to the story as the reader goes through. There is also an extensive authors note at the end of the book, along with a list of sources the author used for the graphic novel. This book brings up the issues surrounding the use of animals for scientific research, and after the author’s note there is a section that discusses animal testing in more detail. This book is a great introduction to a topic that many readers might not be aware of and gives just enough information to make the reader want to learn more.

THOUGHTS: Overall, this would make a great addition to any other nonfiction graphic novels you have in your collection.

Graphic Novel          Mary Hyson, Lehigh Valley Regional Charter School

MG – Sal and Gabi Fix the Universe

Herandez, Carlos. Sal and Gabi Fix the Universe. Disney, 2020. 978-1-368-02283-5. 423 p. $16.99. Grades 4-7. 

This sequel to Sal and Gabi Break the Universe picks up shortly after the end of the first book. Sal’s father, a calamity physicist, is convinced he has perfected the remembranation machine to close the wormholes in the multiverse created by Sal and Gabi. This is great news! So why does Sal feel so empty? Cuban-American Sal Vidón, seventh grade magician extraordinaire and his friend-who is-a-girl-but-NOT-his-girlfriend Gabi Reál knew they created chaos when they manipulated the wormholes previously. Yet something is obviously wrong. Then Gabi from another universe (dubbed Fix-It- Gabi) shows up and explains to Sal that his reaction to the activation of the remembranation machine was a result of being cut off from the multiverse. Repairing the membrane between the multiverses will actually destroy Sal’s universe, Fix-It Gabi declares. She has seen it happen in other universes. But Sal, who adores his family, can’t believe his Papí is a force of evil. On top of saving the multiverse, Sal has problems closer to home, including saving his school’s ambitious Rompenoche performance of Alice in Wonderland scheduled for Parent Night in just a week. The cast of characters in the book series is over-the-top delightful. Family dynamics are explored as Sal adjusts to his new stepmamí, and Gabi deals with a contingent of dads, male, female, and robotic. Artificially Intelligent characters, including Vorágine, the AI toilet at Sal’s school, as well as the newly aware remembranation machine add to the fun. Set in Miami, the book celebrates the vibrant city as well as Cuban culture, frequently integrating Spanish dialog. Sal’s type 1 diabetes also plays an integral part in the story, as it does in Sal’s life. The downside to all this joie de vivre can be feeling a bit like encountering a cyclone. Hernandez does not waste time with exposition. No recap or backstory is provided to bring readers up to speed. This is a delightful, clever sequel, but will work best if read immediately after the first book, while all events and characters are fresh in the reader’s mind. There are also some political allusions that feel out-of-place in a book aimed at 10-year-olds, who will likely not catch or understand the comments.

THOUGHTS: This is a riotous ride of a book that is definitely not a stand-alone. While filled with fart jokes and talking toilets, the book also addresses more serious issues such as diabetes, death, and abusive parents. Keeping up with the multiverse of characters is also challenging. Hand this series to readers who like books with humor, or use for a class read-aloud.

Science Fiction          Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor SD

MG – 96 Miles

Esplin, J.L. 96 Miles. Starscape, 2020. 978-1-250-19230-1. 266 p. $16.99. Grades 6-8.

96 Miles by J. L. Esplin has the look and feel of an apocalyptic novel. Twelve-year-old John and eleven-year-old Stewart Lockwood are the offspring of single-parent and survivalist, Jim Lockwood. Their father is away on a business trip when a massive power outage strikes their area of the Nevada desert. The boys are unfazed because they have six months’ worth of water and supplies, plus a generator. What they don’t anticipate is the ruthlessness of people as materials grow scarce and the situation drags on. Forced at gunpoint to abandon their property, the narrator John immediately assumes the role of protector, a position his younger brother sometimes resents. He sets out to walk to Brighton Ranch, the home of a close family friend, 96 miles down the highway, in three days. Before long, the brothers are accompanied by two other children, Cleverly Iverson and her little brother, Will. John reluctantly accepts them on their journey at Stew’s urging, and he soon realizes the benefit of their presence, especially Cleverly, a selfless, intelligent girl who is mature beyond her twelve years. Newcomer J. L. Esplin unpacks the plot gradually, feeding the reader a bit of information to put together the puzzle. She transcends the expected blisters, sunburn, and dehydration to make 96 Miles a page-turner full of surprise and suspense that made this reader gasp aloud at least twice. Though the narrative is dire, the author provides the deftly drawn characters with senses of humor and sufficient depth to deem them worthy of their self-named tag, Battle Born. This moniker takes on a significant meaning when it becomes apparent that “survival of the fittest” is an innate impulse even in these likeable characters.

THOUGHTS: This book gives lots of survivalist tips that teachers may be able to incorporate into science lessons. Critical thinking skills are also relevant because John is challenged to make important decisions that effect his life and the lives of his companions. Different times in the story “survival of the fittest” is put to the test causing discomfort or generating discussion. Is there evidence at the end that the Battle Born are willing to let bygones be bygones? Stew and the family friend have diabetes, a factor that lends to the urgency of the quartet’s travels. Reminiscent of Susan Beth Pfieffer’s Last Survivor series and Mike Mullin’s Ashfall.

Action/Adventure          Bernadette Cooke, SD Philadelphia