Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Books from Quarantine: BenBee and the Teacher Griefer

BenBee and the Teacher Griefer (The Kids Under the Stairs #1), by KA Holt, (Sept. 2020, Chronicle Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9781452182513

Ages 10-14

KA Holt is just amazing. Her approach to middle grade novels is creative and exciting, keeping readers engaged with verse, throwing scribbled notes and blackout poetry, drawings and doodles in to catch readers where they live. I loved Rhyme Schemer and ended up using blackout poetry in my library at the time to get kids looking at words differently. Now, Holt takes on “divergent” kids and uses Sandbox, a game similar to Minecraft, to reach readers. Four characters: BenBee, BenY, JordanJ, and Javier are four kids in summer school for failing a Florida state standardized test (not-so affectionately referred to as the FART). Their teacher is Ms. J, a librarian-turned-teacher who’s got her own assessment she’s sweating over; she has to turn these “divergent thinkers” into readers that can pass the FART. The book unfolds through each tween’s narration, told in their very individual styles: free verse, stream of consciousness, and art. Ms J isn’t your normal type of teacher, and these kids – “the kids under the stairs”, as that’s the area where their classroom is shoehorned – aren’t your typical students. Each is grappling with bigger issues than the FART, and Ms. J eventually understands that she’s got to meet these kids where they live: namely, Sandbox.

BenBee and the Teacher Griefer has it all: grief and loss, learning disabilities and overbearing parents, a teacher willing to do the unconventional work to reach her students, and… Spartacus. The characters are realistic and relatable, fully realized on the page; the frustration with standardized testing and the “one student size fits all” approach, and the pressure on teachers to cram students into that one-size-fits-all model. The book is voraciously readable and deserves a spot next to the most popular Minecraft adventures and the best new kidlit.

Posted in Intermediate, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Non-Fiction

Bookjoy, Wordjoy, Reading Joy!

Bookjoy, Wordjoy, by Pat Mora/Illustrated by Raúl Colón, (May 2018, Lee & Low), $17.95, ISBN: 9781620142868

Recommended for readers 5-9

Fans of words and language will enjoy this book of poems by award-winning author and poet Pat Mora, beautifully illustrated by award-winning children’s book artist Raúl Colón. Each spread presents vibrant, colorful artwork with accompanying wordplay celebrating books, words, and the fun of playing with language; English and Spanish words come together like old friends; or, as Mora would have it, “toast and jelly/o queso y tortillas”. Most of the poems flow in free verse, and every selection is upbeat and loaded with a sense of play. Artist Raúl Colón’s images have a lovely Mexican influence, with bright colors coming together and communicating in rich visuals.

This is a great jumping-off point for introducing younger readers and writers to poetry, particularly free verse poetry, which demands less rigor and allows more freedom and imagination. Give kids visual points and ask them to think up their own poems, or flip the tables and introduce them to mural art by taping some butcher paper (or the blank side of an old roll of wrapping paper) across a wall, a table, or another long, flat surface. Let them go wild, and then ask them to talk about what they see. You’ll be amazed at a kid’s natural poetry.