Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3.5
Genre: Realistic Fiction
What did you like about the book? Through a series of journal entries and letters, we are introduced to 8 students from Ms. Graham’s 5th grade class at White Oak Elementary School. The journal writing is an assignment, and each of the kids approaches it in their own way – Emily names her journal Hope to reflect her desire to improve her relationships with her two former best friends; outspoken Sharon creates free verse to express her feelings, class clown Henry writes his entries as movie scripts; misunderstood Blake records events in graphic novel format.
The class bonds over the adoption of a frog captured in the schoolyard. They vote to name it Kermit, and he becomes a class pet and symbol – students bring Kermit to their desks for stress relief and inspiration and they doodle pictures of him on notes to the teacher. They even modify the well-known ‘butterfly effect’ to incorporate their frog. As the school year progresses, new friendships evolve and important current events are discussed; Ms. Graham assigns groups to research an important social issue and encourages them to really ‘immerse’ themselves in learning about it.
One of the groups takes the assignment seriously and embarks on an ill-advised trip to a homeless shelter, with potentially calamitous results for the teacher as well as one of the students, who is an undocumented Mexican immigrant. Channeling Malala Yousafzai, the classmates must find a way for their voices to be heard by the community and the school board. They learn appropriate ways to solve big problems, and their relationships with each other improve along the way.
This is a quick read, with short, manageable chapters and an appealing cast. The characters are archetypal – the spoiled rich girl, the boy with the reading disability who acts out – and the plot of “kids rallying to save their inspirational teacher” is familiar, but I think it will speak to a lot of young readers’ hearts. It addresses a number of important issues – bullying, women’s rights, poverty, homelessness, immigration – in easy terms that make the topics comprehensible for kids, and the author (a social worker who works with at-risk kids) includes a list of websites for more information on activism.
Anything you didn’t like about it? I just felt like the author had a checklist of issues to make sure she included. It might have been better to focus on just one or two of the class’s concerns than to touch on so many.
To whom would you recommend this book? Upper elementary kids really enjoy these multiple-perspective books, like Because of Mr. Terupt (Buyea) or The Class (Dowell). Classroom teachers can use it as an introduction to service projects.
Who should buy this book? Public and elementary school libraries
Where would you shelve it? Fiction
Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? no
Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City and State: Leigh King, School Librarian, Lincoln Street Elementary School, Northborough, Massachusetts
Date of review: 6/23/2020