Maybe He Just Likes You by Barbara Dee

cover166873-mediumSimon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2019

In Maybe He Just Likes You Barbara Dee captures the feel of middle school perfectly. They’re on the line, Mira and her friends, sometimes leaning over into childhood and other times into adolescence. Mila’s body has moved into adolescence of its own accord, and even her green sweater doesn’t do enough to hide the changes she’s not ready for. Her friends, too, are dealing with the changes—or lack thereof–and it’s causing strain in the group. So, when a group of boys begins to give Mila a lot of unwanted attention, she doesn’t know what to make of it or where to turn.

It’s so easy to sympathize with Mira in this story. When everything is new: the shape of your body, the crushes your friends get, the social scene in middle school, it can be hard to determine what’s okay and what’s not. But Mira quickly comes to the conclusion that what’s happening is not okay. Yet, faced with an overwhelmed single mom, distracted teachers and male counselors, she cannot bear to explain. Finally, one night, Mira has the opportunity to retaliate against the leader of the group of boys, and that leads the way to help, learning, and restorative justice.

This book makes an excellent resource for middle school girls and dare I say male middle school teachers and administrators since the painful situations Mira is in are presented in such an unflinching and clear manner. In addition, Barbara Dee presents a realistic situation where the adults are clearly trying to do well by the students and yet Mira has good reasons to fear approaching them. I would hope that the resolution of the story would give any girl faced with this problem the courage to seek help.

I did have one big beef with the book, and it comes at the end, so if you don’t want spoilers, stop reading now. At the same time that Mira is dealing with sexual harassment at school, there are hints that her mother is encountering the same at work. In addition, the small family has some serious financial problems caused by the fact that Mira’s father refuses to pay child support. In the end Mom’s male boss fires her. Although Mira saves the day by pushing her mother in the direction of a new job with a female boss, the conclusion of the sub plot made me want to spit. Mira’s mom gets a new job she loves in a woman-owned business…at an even lower wage.

Suffice it to say my reader’s high in Mira’s success was spoiled by the message that in adult life women are at the mercy of men—whether ex-husbands or bosses—and that in order to be happy they must also be poorly compensated.

My conclusion? This book has a great message as it relates to middle school, and that’s probably reason enough to buy it, because that part of the plot’s masterful. But if my daughter were in middle school, I’d hand it to her with the requirement that we talk through what happened with Mira’s mom after she was finished reading. Unfortunately, I’m guessing most middle school girls won’t share this book with their mom.

I received an advance reader copy of Maybe He Just Likes You from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Secret Code Menace by Pamela Cosman

The secret code menaceRansom Publishing, UK, 2016

During summer vacation Sara, Daniel, and Jared came up with an awesome secret code. They think it’s the perfect thing to keep parental units, teachers, and annoying little sisters in the dark. The first real test of the new code comes on the first day of school when a harmless message gets changed in transit and puts Sara in some serious hot water at school. Despite that, they don’t give up on the code. Instead the brother, sister, and cousin team get busy finding ways to protect their code from errors that others could introduce. And it’s a good thing they do, because when the local bank is robbed in the middle of Sara and Daniel’s field trip, their code may be the only thing that can get them out of a difficult and dangerous situation.

Pamela Cosman has written a ripping adventure starring a group of ordinary middle school kids. The characters are appealing and real. The stakes are high. And the kids save the day. It’s an engaging story with STEM concepts worked in. The secret code involved is a binary code and useful for learning how computers pass information. The Secret Code Menace takes readers along for a fun ride while clearly showing how engineers solve problems with corrupted information in DVDs, cell phones, and other types of communication so that users may not even notice a problem.

A section at the end of the book gives even more information for kids who are interested in learning about error correction coding in more detail. It also offers solutions to the unsolved puzzles in the story.

Pamela Cosman is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at University of California, San Diego. In The Secret Code Menace she uses her considerable knowledge and teaching skills to make engineering concepts clear and fun for upper elementary and middle school readers.

This is the start of a great new series for kids. It will appeal to readers who simply want a good story and also to kids who are fascinated by secret codes and STEM concepts. This is a must-add for classrooms, school libraries, and fun summer reading.

The Way to School by Rosemary McCarney

The Way to School Second Story Press, 2015

What would you go through to get to school? As children in the United States and Canada prepare for a new school year with anticipation or trepidation, they’re likely to be focused on who their teacher will be, which friends will be in their class, or how much homework will be required this year. In many countries, however, simply getting to school requires a very real and physical commitment. They way may be long and treacherous; nevertheless, as is evidenced in The Way to School, children in many parts of the world work hard to simply get to school.

Though the text in this book is quite simple and meant for younger children, I think this book could have a place in a classroom for older students. I love the gorgeous photographs. There’s a wealth of information in every image that will intrigue older readers, too. I found myself pouring over the photographs and comparing them. Which groups had an adult accompanying them? Who wore uniforms to school? Which children had to bring necessities like water and furniture? Every photograph helps readers understand that required school attendance and a school bus to ride are indeed privileges.

Each photograph is identified by country, which provides a great jumping off point for further research on education in specific countries. There are also many points of comparison to research between the photographs. Which countries have mandated education? How many days a year do children go to school? What sort of geographical features limit some communities’ access to education?

Proceeds from the sale of this book go to Plan Canada, one of the largest international development agencies in the world.

I read The Way to School as an electronic ARC courtesy of Second Story Press and NetGalley.