The title of today’s review was on last year’s Mark Twain Award nominee list—meaning that Missouri students, in grades four through six, had a chance to read it, along with three of the other nominees, and then vote for it to win the state award. It did not win the award, but it must have made a big impact on students in the Joplin area because at least once a week for the past year I have been asked by an elementary-age child for help finding this book.
I have had children ask for it for numerous reasons: because they wanted to read it again, their teacher was currently reading it aloud to them, their friend had recommended it or they were looking for the sequel. And almost every time I was asked to help locate the book, the child would to tell me why they were looking for it. This is rare. Usually I show a child where a book is located, and they are so focused on getting the book they are not interested in having much dialogue about it. It is even rarer that I will notice a non-bestselling title or non-award winning book based purely on student interest.
All of these rare happenings piqued my interest, so I “checked out” a digital copy of the e-book from the library’s molib2go.org website and read half of it in one sitting. In looking back, I can definitely understand why children were so drawn to it—which I hope becomes clear in my review below.
The fifth-grade school year is just starting for the story’s seven narrators—shy Anna, prankster Peter, brainy Luke, new girl Jessica, bully Alexis, timid Danielle and grumpy Jeffrey—and their teacher Mr. Terupt. Mr. Terupt is a new teacher at Snow Hill School, but his students quickly discover that he is not a typical teacher. In fact, he turns out to be an unbelievable teacher.
He encourages group work by seating his students in tables, rather than rows. He creates fun and challenging assignments like “Dollar Word” math. He forms a partnership with a special-education classroom. And he stands up for his students’ artwork when the fire marshal threatens to tear it down. In doing so many things to help his students, he manages to create a unique classroom atmosphere that fosters respect and hands-on learning, while making a huge impact and creating a special bond between him and his students.
This special bond is challenged when, in the middle of the year, a tragic accident happens on the snowy playground. What was supposed to be a fun-filled reward for their classroom turns into a surreal, nightmare for Mr. Terupt, his students and everyone at Snow Hill School.
Debut novelist Rob Buyea has written a special story, and his use of seven child narrators for it lends a unique multidimensional perspective that bringing realness to the story. Some narrators are more effective than others, but the combination of all of them to create the story works well. Readers are sure to identify with one or more of the students and gain a better understanding of what others in their classes might be going through on a personal level.
Hopefully readers will have had a teacher like Mr. Terupt, but if not Buyea has created a well-rounded and inspiring role model to fill that spot. Students, teachers and parents alike should check out this quick-reading story about fear, hope, love, understanding and forgiveness.