Guest review written by Theodora (Lolly) Salazar
Robin Yardi, author of The Midnight War of Mateo Martinez calls Meg Medina “the Judy Blume for a new generation.” Being a reader of Judy Blume for many years, I agree with her wholeheartedly. In honor of my heritage and the observance of National Hispanic Heritage Month, I offer you this review of Merci Suárez Changes Gears by the Newbery Award-winning author, Meg Medina. This book was published in 2018 and was bestowed the Newbery Medal in 2019. It certainly gave me a glimpse into my world as a young girl, and I am sure it will bring joy to many young readers experiencing growing pains. Unfortunately, when I was growing up, there were not many books where I could see characters resembling my family and I in the stories I read. We live in an exciting time where books are being published with a focus on many different groups of children so that they can feel a part of the world’s narrative.
Transitions are tough for many of us. Merci is faced with many of them as she moves from elementary to middle school. Medina masterfully presents the struggles Merci deals with as she grows up in a family who keeps a secret from her at her grandfather’s request. She lives with her multigenerational family right next to each other which is wonderful, but also stressful at times. Other transitions Merci manages are the strains of belonging at school, the awareness of the differences (socioeconomically) between her and the students at this school. She is a scholarship student, and some students set out to make her feel different. Merci also deals with the self-conscious feelings of her physical appearance as many of us have as we grow from a child into an adolescent.
The story is set in Florida and the richness of the family’s Cuban descent is so heartwarming as Medina includes some Spanish terms and a look into the difference in culture with the food and traditions the family celebrates. It allows children of Latin Heritage to see themselves and their families in a book! The significance of Merci’s bicycle is woven through the beautifully crafted story. In the end, Merci learns that as long as she keeps pushing through the harder gears, she will be okay regardless of the continued changes that may come her way.
Teachers of fourth and fifth graders may find this book helpful in helping students understand some of the changes their students will undoubtedly encounter as they finish out their elementary school years and move on to middle school. They can certainly leverage this book’s glimpse into how to deal with the emotions they may experience into their teaching. That is one way we use books as guides to understand ourselves and the world around us.
Now out is Medina’s new picture book Evelyn Del Rey is Moving Away (September .2020). Sounds like someone else will be dealing with change!
Interview with Meg Medina
Theodora (Lolly) Salazar is the daughter of educators. She has been a teacher, Reading Specialist, and presently an Academic Technology Instructional Support Teacher. Her career has spanned 30 years. An avid reader as a child, her passion for literacy led her to this field in which she thrives on sharing great books with anyone who will listen!