Saturday, November 14, 2015

Excellent Books about Sensitive Subjects

I've just finished reading two excellent books for the middle grades, both of which would make thoughtful read-alouds.

Crenshaw deals with homelessness, Absolutely Almost is about struggling in school.  The protagonists in both stories are boys.  Each book is written with a gentle touch that makes your heart go out to the main character, and while the authors' portrayals of their struggles are real, there's a spirit of hopefulness that pervades each book.

In Absolutely Almost, by Lisa Graff, Albie isn't good at any subjects in school.  He struggles to get more than four words right on his spelling tests, goes to Math Club instead of having math with his class, and he'd rather read Captain Underpants than the books his mother thinks he should read.  He's the new kid at a public school and gets bullied by one student in particular, a "cool" kid.  But Albie is also a great kid who wants to find his way in this difficult-to-find-your-way-and-make-friends world. And he does.

He gets a new babysitter, Calista, who's come to New York City to get a graduate degree in Art.  She treats Albie kindly, rewarding him with donuts from the bodega downstairs.  He shows her around New York, and she shows him how to draw.

The chapters in this book are very short, making them perfect for for reluctant readers or kids with less stamina.  I suspect there are a number of kids in our classes who could connect with Albie on some level, who might develop a better understanding of their self-worth, just like Albie did,



Jackson, in Crenshaw, by Katherine Applegate, has this sense that his family is about to become homeless again.  But he can't get his parents to tell him the truth, although he sees that there's little food to eat and that some of their furniture is being sold.  That makes him angry, because he likes to be very scientific about everything, preferring lists and plans, as opposed to his parents' attempts to make everything sound like a new adventure.

Into this difficult situation appears a 7-foot tall talking cat.  Jackson first sees him taking a bubble bath in his bathroom, and it shocks him because, although he recognizes Crenshaw from his past, he hasn't seen him for four years.  He wonders if he's going crazy.  After all, he's too old for an imaginary friend.  Over time, he comes to appreciate that Crenshaw has come into his life at just the right time.

There was something a little fanciful about this novel, and I mean that in the best way.  Applegate takes on a very serious issue, but the book is hopeful, funny, and very serious.  Children will come away with an appreciation for the challenges of homelessness, for parents who try hard to do their best and still don't succeed, and for resilience.  Personally, I thought the ending was a little too tidy for me, but I think it's perfectly appropriate for the audience it's intended for.

I also was very touched to learn that Applegate interviewed homeless students at a school in San Diego as part of her research.  I don't have the name of the school (I left the book at school) but I was under the impression that this school was specifically designed to meet the needs of these students.

Grab a copy of either of these books.  I promise they'll be hard to put down!

I thought I'd link up with Brynn Allison at The Literary Maven to share these books.  It's worth spreading the word!

Have a great Sunday!





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