Monday in the Middle: Roller Girl,
Another installment of Monday in the Middle with librarian and media specialist Gabija Fischer!
In Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson, Astrid Vasquez and Nicole are best friends. They do everything together, like suffer through Mrs. Vasquez’s Evenings of Cultural Enlightenment. Waiting for one of these “boring” events to begin, Astrid and Nicole goof off, like usual. When the lights dim and the Rose City Rollers skate into the arena, Astrid is mesmerized. At that moment, she knows she wants to participate in a roller derby, but first she and Nicole will have to attend the Rosebuds (the junior Roller League) summer camp to learn the sport. This is all a dream-come-true…except Nicole doesn’t want to go to roller derby camp; she dreams of ballet. Differing interests highlights not only the fading of Astrid and Nicole’s friendship, but also the start of many other changes that accompany the turbulence of middle school. Astrid must develop her identity–as independent, as confident, as athletic. Bumps and bruises along her journey of self-discovery give her an excuse to give up, but she doesn’t. Instead she fights for her dreams learning invaluable lessons along the way, and ultimately she becomes tougher in many respects.
Jamieson’s graphic novel Roller Girl is the second graphic novel that I simply adore (first is El Deafo. See my previous review of this graphic novel). I found myself cheering for Astrid while learning much about the world of roller derby. I had no idea how tough these athletes are with jamming and knocking skaters off their tracks. But these tough athletes also have a great sense of humor! I laughed out loud at the athletes’ derby names as they consist of some smart word-play. I always love a good pun! But also I love Astrid. She is realistic, fallible, determined, and funny. Astrid’s story is a reminder that hard work can pay off in ways that may not have first been imagined. Here is a story of friendship, of dreams, of perseverance that every dreamer should read.
Side note: I love the relationship between Astrid and her mother. Mrs. Vasquez fosters Astrid’s interests while giving her independence and room for self-discovery. I absorbed several parenthood tips through this graphic novel. At the very least, I now have plenty of time to determine how to react if my daughter ever comes home with blue hair 🙂
Lynda Mullaly Hunt begins her story Fish in a Tree with her protagonist, Ally, giving her pregnant teacher a sympathy card at the class baby shower. In another class, Ally outright refuses to do the writing assignment. It isn’t until she is put in a new class that Mr. Daniels, her new teacher, realizes that Ally’s troublemaking isn’t defiance but avoidance. Ally will do anything she can to not read and write because in Ally’s eyes the words move around the page. Ally struggles with dyslexia, and even more, she struggles with fitting in with her classmates. She feels too different, too burdened to make meaningful connections with others. In her new class, however, she meets the outspoken Keisha and the quirky Albert, each with their own struggles. Together, they overcome obstacles and learn how to draw on their strengths to support each other always.
Hunt’s Fish in a Tree reminds us that intelligence goes beyond the confines of what is often tested in schools (I reflect much about this truth as I watch students struggle through standardized tests this week). But, more importantly, Hunt, through her likeable protagonist Ally, teaches us how to live harmoniously with each other. Ally reflects, “I remember thinking that my reading differences were like dragging a concrete block around every day, and how I felt sorry for myself. Now I realize that everyone has their own blocks to drag around. And they all feel heavy.” Fish in a Tree, while not without flaws (for me, some of the plot points seem gratuitous and even far-fetched), reminds me to live in such a way that I make those blocks others are dragging feel lighter, even if just for a little while. Her messages about the strength of friendship and the power of words certainly serves as a reminder for all of us to support each other and to embrace each other’s strengths and weaknesses alike.
A.F. Harrold captures the imagination of childhood in his illustrated novel The Imaginary. The adventures of Amanda and her imaginary friend, Rudger, begin when she happens upon him sitting in her wardrobe one day. From that moment, Rudger’s loyalty to Amanda is unparalleled. Their greatest and most dangerous adventure begins when Mr. Bunting, a stocky man in a Hawaiian shirt, comes knocking on their door. At the hands of Mr. Bunting, Rudger and Amanda are separated. Now in danger of being forgotten by Amanda, Rudger must find his way back by her side. His journey leads him to place a bursting with imagination: a library. It is here that he learns the true, and purely evil, intentions of Mr. Bunting. Now, more than ever, he wants to be reunited with his Amanda. But there are rules imaginaries must follow or else they fade away. Is Rudger’s loyalty to Amanda reciprocated or is that just imaginary too?
Harrold’s The Imaginary seems at first to be the story of an egocentric, somewhat bratty, but somehow still likeable Amanda. However, it quickly becomes apparent that the adorable, rip-him-out-of-the-book-and-hug-him Rudger is the star of Harrold’s book. I didn’t have an imaginary friend, but Rudger and his loyalty to Amanda make me wish I did. Who wouldn’t want someone so dedicated and loving by her side? Although I can’t go back to my childhood to create an imaginary friend (despite how wonderful that could be), what I can do is be like Lizzie, Amanda’s mom, to my own children. Lizzie encouraged Amanda’s imagination rather than squelching it like some adults can do. I hope I never eat up anyone’s imagination!
Although The Imaginary is about a child’s imagination, reader beware. There is a Roald Dahl-esque darkness and scariness that accompanies the innocence, and even humor, of the imaginary-friend world. If you have the courage to meet Amanda, Rudger, and the evil Mr. Bunting, don’t forget to appreciate the illustrations and formatting of the story as a means of establishing the mood.
Favorite quotation: “[A library] is the best sort of indoors there is for a rainy day. Every book is an adventure.” Ah (*swoon*) A.F. Harrold, you are a man of my own heart.
Gabija Fischer currently works in the Tredyffrin Easttown School District. She has been immersed in young adult and children’s literature this school year since she is currently working as the library media specialist at the middle school. The best part of her day is the part that follows the question, “Can you help me find a book?” Finding the answer to that question feeds her competitive nature, as she views the search like solving a puzzle. She finds much excitement in finding just the right book for someone.