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. – Rise Up! The Art of Protest

Rippon, Jo. Rise Up! The Art of Protest. Charlesbridge, 2020. 978-1-623-54150-7. 60 p. $18.99. Grades K-3.

Human rights are important to all of us which is why when they are threatened, many artists create work that peacefully protests and raises awareness. This book is sectioned into six different topics of protest that have been around for years and are still ongoing, including climate change, gender equality, and LGBTQIA+ rights. Each section describes a bit about the history of the struggle and features artwork in various mediums that supported the cause. Captions accompany each piece of artwork to explain the powerful meaning behind it. But in many cases the artwork, the creation of which spans over the past century, speaks for itself.

THOUGHTS: Rise Up! is written in child-friendly language which makes it easy for young readers to understand the cause behind the protest. The artwork in this book is carefully and thoughtfully chosen and shows the power a paintbrush (or camera or crayon) can have. For adolescents figuring out their place in the world around them, this book can be crucial in helping them see the power young people can have. Written in collaboration with Amnesty International, this is a must-have for librarians and teachers who want to curate a collection of books that bring awareness to social issues.

322.4 Social Issues and Peaceful Protest        Danielle Corrao, Manheim Central SD