This book is #33 in The American Adventure Series. Set in the early 1900s in Minneapolis, MN, this book discusses the effects of the gramophone, particularly the introduction of ragtime music to family homes. John Philip Sousa, famous musician and composer of "Stars and Stripes Forever" is quoted and discussed as the main characters are boys who participate in band and look up to his example. Some of the character issues addressed in this book include adjusting to being a blended family (having a step-parent), how to respond when friends become jealous or unkind toward us, how to be mindful of others needs, and exercising self-control and discipline to meet a goal despite unhealthy peer pressures.
Mark and his best friend Jens were once inseparable. After Mark had taken a family vacation out west and received a lot of attention in his class regarding the earthquake he experienced, Jens exhibited some symptoms of jealousy. Mark tried to overlook it and even agreed to practice their instruments for band at Jens new friend Harvey's house. Harvey's family had a gramophone and allowed him to listen to ragtime. Jens and Mark didn't think their parents would approve, but couldn't see much harm in the music with a different tempo. When the three boys make the audition to be in a brass marching band with senior members that performs over the summer, they are thrilled. Their practice habits become a concern for the director and they either have to shape up and take instruction or face expulsion. Confused at whether ragtime music is truly a bad influence or not, Mark writes a letter to Mr. Sousa and invites Jens to meet him despite their being at odds with one another.
This book was less exciting and action filled than previous books have been, but it shared very clear and accurate pictures of the dynamics of a friend group in middle school. The main character struggled with not wanting to be disrespected, but having compassion and a sense of loyalty to his longtime friend. There was a tinge of competitiveness of wanting a girl's attention and I think it was tastefully and realistically portrayed. This book was perfect for my 10 year old who is starting to realize there can be difficulties in friendship such as judgement and unhealthy competitiveness. My 6 year old was interested the whole way through which surprised me due to the less active and dramatic plot of this book compared to previous books in the series. The portrayals of a blended family (a son adjusting to a step-father) bothered a reviewer of the previous book, but as a step-parent myself, I can say that looking at and discussing the very difficult and often conflicting emotions in the early phases of blending families is not a negative thing. Discussing these dynamics and trying to have empathy for all the different roles and characters involved is healthy and helpful. It's much better to have these candid discussions about book characters- having these discussions about real-life situations in your family or your friend's homes is much more emotional and could lead to gossip or judging. Examining characters is a safe territory to really dig into the topics so your kids will have some framework to ponder these circumstances when they encounter them in real life.
I recommend these books for ages 5-12 or even a bit older depending on your teens tastes as great read aloud books to engage an interest in American history.
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