The Circuit and Breaking Through

cover image for The Circuitcover image for Breaking ThroughJimenez, F. (1997) The Circuit. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press.

Jimenez, F. (2008) Breaking Through. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin


When Francisco was little and he had only two brothers, his family lived across la frontera, in Mexico, and he dreamed of moving to California, like his papa always talked about. After his family finally made that dangerous journey, Francisco did not find money in the streets, as the stories said, instead he found hard work and long days working the circuit picking strawberries, cotton, grapes or whatever else was in season, wherever in California it may be planted. Francisco was still happy, though, despite always moving and never having enough money for doctors, toys, or warm jacket. Because in California, Francisco and his sibling are able to spend their weekdays attending school instead of working, at least some of the time.

In a series of stories, Jimenez tells the true story of how his family came to live and work in California, and what life was like as the child of migrant farm workers over half a century ago in California. The stories are slightly disjointed, in that large chunks of time pass between each without this being mentioned, but not so much so that young readers will have difficulty following the tale. Jimenez tells his story in a very matter of fact way and with a voice that is both distinctive and fitting. Not every tween will enjoy this book, but those that do will be captivated by Francisco’s struggles and spirit.

Breaking Through picks up where The Circuit left off, with Francisco in eighth grade and his family in trouble with la migra. It follows him through his high school years, where he flourishes, despite prejudice, poverty, and other obstacles. Where The Circuit leaves readers fascinated by Francisco’s struggles, Breaking Through is nothing less than inspiring. Matching Francisco’s growing maturity, the reading level is slightly above that of The Circuit, but the voice is still clearly the same.

Younger tweens are less likely to find the stories of the sequel in particular to be of high interest, but many who came to admire Francisco in The Circuit will still find much to keep them turning the pages in Breaking Through.

Best for ages 9-14, 12-16

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109 Forgotten American Heroes

cover image for 109 Forgetten American HeroesYing, C. & McMullen, B. (2009) 109 Forgotten American Heroes. New York, NY: DK Publishing




So, you know who invented the light bulb, you can name the first president of the United States, and of course you’ve heard of Rosa Parks.  But do you know who invented masking tape?  Have you ever heard of the Philadelphia Tea Party?  Or Claudette Colvin?

In this highly imaginative and entertaining book, Ying and McMullen list 109 “heroes” (and 9 villains) who helped make the world we live in what it is today.  It gets off to a slow start, but that doesn’t matter much as it’s an easy book to read out of order, and by the time the pages reach the 1900’s, our authors have hit their groove and each page is filled with wacky and interesting information – and has a colorful and dynamic layout to match.

This is one of those books to keep around to encourage interest in history and technology rather than to necessarily use as a reference book (although, it does have the requisite index).  Tweens especially will love both the engaging graphics and the weird but true facts they present.


Best for ages 9-15

Kids on Strike!

cover image for Kids on Strike!Bartoletti, S. C. (1999) Kids on Strike!. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company.


The common narrative of immigrant and worker’s rights in the United States is that change for the better was as gradual and inevitable as the passage of time itself.   Bartoletti’s moving description of various strikes involving children and teens shows that the fight for decent pay and working conditions was very often an all out war that required great courage on behalf of the striking workers.


Kids on Strike! focuses on the 1836 Lowell strike, the Newsies strike of 1899, the New York City rent strike of 1907, the Anthracite coal strikes in Pennsylvania from 1897 to 1902, Mother Jones children’s march in 1903, the Garment Worker’s strikes of 1897 and 1909, and the 1912 Lawrence strike.  It ends with a chapter on the National Child Labor Committee and a timeline of federal laws on child labor.  By focusing on strikes that involved child and adolescent laborers, as well their specific contributions to the strike, Bartoletti not only highlights the differences and similarities in children’s lives then compared to now, she also introduces an important historical movement in a way that makes it easy for tweens to relate and understand.



Bartoletti describes not only the danger even small children faced from working on the streets and in factories but also the sometimes violent lengths the striking workers went to in order to gain even the smallest of concessions.  While the factory owners rarely come across as sympathetic characters, neither does Bartoletti pretend that all the violence was on their end.  In being clear, honest, and up front about the actions of the workers Bartoletti presents not only a fair picture, but also one that shows various historical figures as the multi-dimensional and real people they were.  A generous amount of historical photographs also help to bring the truth of the text to life.

My only wish was that the use of text and pictures was more dynamic.  The text itself did a great job of capturing one’s attention, but the amount of it was still a little overwhelming considering the reading level.  Younger tweens might find the large amounts of unbroken text daunting, while older tweens might find the language sometimes a bit simplistic considering the topic and amount to be read.  Nevertheless, this is an excellent and necessary addition to any library for tweens.

Best for ages 9-14

Awards and Reviews:

Starred review Publisher’s Weekly

Starred review Kirkus

Starred review School Library Journal

Jane Addam’s Children’s Book Award

Author Website:


cover image for SmileTelgemeier, R. (2010) Smile. New York, NY: Scholastic, Inc.




I loved this story and identified with Raina so much that I just can’t manage an objective sounding review for this book. It was so completely awesome from start to finish, but I think the part where I was certain that I loved it to pieces and always would was when Raina went in to see The Little Mermaid and came out to declare to her mother that she wanted to be an animator when she grew up. That was me. I did that. (Except that we were still in the theatre watching the credits. And what I said was that one day my name would be up there.)


Needless to say, today’s tweens will not feel that spark of “I remember that!” when Telgemeier talks about the Loma Prieta earthquake or playing with her NES, just as I certainly never had to have my two front teeth pulled out. They will, however, identify with her social struggles, finding solace in creative work, and learning to stand up for herself. This was a fantastic book and I highly recommend it for both tweens and teens. It will likely appeal most to readers that are in or have been in middle school. Best for ages:10-16


Awards and Reviews: Horn Honor Book


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