Archives for posts with tag: children’s lit

lightningReviewed by Tammie Benham

At age eight, Lucy Callahan was struck by lightning.  She survived however, the strike left her genius level Math skills, an inability to cope with germs, and the ability to recite the numbers of pi to infinity.  Over the years Lucy has developed coping mechanisms to ensure the numbers of pi don’t overtake her life.  She only allows the numbers of pi to be recited to the 314th decimal point, and apping her toe three times interrupts the number invasion in her head when she’s uncomfortable.  Lucy realizes some of her behaviors may seem odd to others but her intuitive self tells her people will get used to them over time.

 

Since the lightning strike, Lucy has been mainly homeschooled by her Nana.  However, things are about to change.  When Nana decides Lucy needs to attend Middle School and enter a world of her peers, Lucy is less than thrilled.  Thinking she should be in college, not Middle School, and with the brain power to succeed in such an advanced setting, Lucy tentatively gives in to her Nana’s demands-she must join an activity, read a book that’s not a Math textbook, and make a friend.  She finds the new environment as challenging as she had anticipated.

 

With the help of a like-minded teacher, a germy dog who steals her heart, and a boy who has the knack of seeing things from a different perspective, Lucy might just be able to survive seventh grade.

 

Lucy’s experiences while making friends with Windy (NOT Wendy) and Levi, serve as the backdrop for this middle grade novel.  Lessons of trust, friendship, loyalty, and forgiveness permeate the storyline.  Lucy’s character states she is diagnosed with Acquired Savant Syndrome, which explains her behaviors and abilities.  However, the characteristics Lucy exhibits may be familiar and help children identify with the story.

When the last written page of a book concludes and you find yourself wanting more, it’s always a good thing.  Stacy McAnulty’s debut novel ends in just such a way.  Here’s hoping the story of Lucy Callahan continues.  Written for grades 3-9, the story contains some bullying.

 

 

 

 

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hello universeThis is the story of Virgil, Valencia, Kaori, and Chet, and their journey to friendship.

Erin Entrada Kelly’s 2018 Newbery Medal Winner has given a very important voice to diversity while at the same time disproving stereotypes.  This character-driven novel reads like one of the fables, told by Virgil’s grandmother or Lola, interspersed throughout the book.

Virgil is an introvert in a family of extraverts and can’t quite find a way to stand up to bullies, including his own family, who call him by a nickname he despises.  Valencia is feeling the weight of parents who are overprotective, she suspects because of her hearing loss. Kaori, who is on her third life, is the reincarnation of an Egyptian and a freedom fighter from Bangladesh. Chet Bullens is the school bully who hasn’t quite figured out what he’s good at in life and so points out perceived flaws in others.

According to Kaori, and her little sister Gen, the four are in the hands of Destiny during the few days in which the story takes place.  Virgil encounters Chet while on his way to seek fortune telling advice from Kaori and fate is set into motion.  When Virgil falls down an abandoned well he learns to conquer some of his fears.  The author deeply explores the sensory experience of Virgil while in the well, bringing the reader right along into his nightmare.

Virgil’s friends, Kaori and Valencia have to “feel” their way into finding Virgil, whose cell phone fell out of his pocket and shattered during his fall.  We are treated to the eccentric Kaori consulting star charts to divine the fate of Virgil.  Will the friends rescue Virgil or will his fears be realized when his bones are found in the well, beside the bones of his guinea pig, years into the future?

The funny, feel-good tone of this book compliments the pace.  The suspense builds to a climactic, if somewhat predictable ending, which is nonetheless satisfying. What a wonderful breath of fresh air to read about children who are ability diverse as “children” without their differences defining their character.

An important read for children 3rd grade and up.  This book is extensively quotable and would make a great classroom read-aloud.  Perhaps the plot is best summarized with this quote from Valencia, “Meanness always shows on people’s faces.  Sometimes you have to look hard for it.  Sometimes it’s just a part of a person’s features.”

piecing me together

Writing about social justice issues can be difficult when the audience is composed of middle school students because of the complexity inherent in such discussions. RENEE WATSON’s “PIECING ME TOGETHER” addresses issues of race and social justice deftly and accurately while maintaining authenticity of character.

The main character, Jade, is a poor, black teenager who attends a predominately white private school. She is smart and driven, so she is given many opportunities. But she begins to realize that most of these opportunities are given out of pity rather than as rewards for her real scholastic successes. She knows she is supposed to feel grateful, and she does. However, she also feels frustrated that her teachers and mentors view her neighborhood, family, friends and status as hurdles to overcome rather than as integral to her being.

Jade initially transferred to the school because she was excited by the possibility of visiting a Spanish-speaking country on the study abroad trip her school sponsors every year. She’s certain she will be chosen to go; she is a star Spanish student who assists classmates with their assignments, and she has a nearly perfect GPA.

Instead, her counselors select her for Woman to Woman, a mentor program that pairs underprivileged students with successful women of color to attend culturally enriching workshops and events. The program sounds great, and it culminates in a college scholarship, but Jade wants to be chosen for programs because of who she is and not in spite of it. At the same time, she must navigate new and old friendships and family relationships as well as her passions. In addition to being an excellent student, Jade is a talented and passionate collage artist who is inspired by the recent officer-involved shooting of a black teenager in neighboring Vancouver, as well as by York, the slave who traveled with Lewis and Clark.

“Piecing Me Together” offers a nuanced discussion of the way black kids can be treated, both in school and society, even when intentions are good. Jade’s relationships with her friends, her family and her mentor provide excellent opportunities for discussions of race and social justice issues. For example, when Jade confronts her Spanish teacher regarding his decision not to select her for the study abroad program and he explains that it is because she is already given so many opportunities, readers can better appreciate what true support of underprivileged and minority youth can look like. When Jade’s new friend Sam argues that her experience with a racist store clerk was not, in fact, racist, readers learn what being an ally should look like. When Jade comes to Maxine with her concerns about the mentor program, readers can better appreciate the importance and value of speaking up. The novel, while targeted toward middle school readers, is an excellent choice for any reader interested in realistic fiction and/or social justice fiction.