Shakespeare Makes the Playoffs by Ron Koertge is told in verse, and not just free verse either. There are types of poems that I didn't even know, like pantoums. Wait, back-up. It's a novel told in first person about a middle school kid, an 8th grader, Kevin, who plays baseball and writes poetry.
He has a girlfriend, who "likes to make out in semi-public places." I don't really have a problem with that because it seems Kevin does have a problem with it. He gets that he's being used by a girl who's trying to irritate her parents, and he's not happy about it.
Kevin really likes Amy, the cool girl he met at a poetry reading. Yes, this kid goes to poetry readings....with his DAD! How cool is that? Turns out his father is an author. Kevin and his dad are both working through some stuff, like grief over his mom's death. Apparently this book is a sequel to Shakespeare Bats Cleanup, which I will have to add to my enormous pile. I'm not a big fan of middle-schoolers dating, but I do like the poetry aspect. I think it's okay for eighth graders and up, seeing as how it's about an eighth grader.
Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea. A gem. A real treasure. I cannot express how much I love this book. It's like Good-bye Mr. Chips, or the Dead Poets' Society, but better and about middle-schoolers. Told in each of seven students' voices, the scene flips back and forth as the author shows us the same event multiple times from different perspectives.
There are some mature themes running through the book. Each of the seven students has some baggage. Jessica has just moved to town with her mom, because her screenwriter dad dumped them for a starlet. One child is ridiculed for her weight by the class mean girl. One boy is grieving the loss of his older brother, who was born with Down Syndrome and died the year before. He says that he was born to save his brother, as a bone marrow match.
Another girl, Anna, is cautious about making friends, because her mother was ostracized by the town when she became pregnant at sixteen. Danielle is the granddaughter of one of the townspeople that treated Anna's mother so badly. Danielle is not allowed to play with Anna, as her mother and grandmother feel Anna may be a bad influence. Danielle and her family are also shown to be practicing Christians, attending Church and praying regularly. Danielle prays for her mother and grandmother to change their opinions of Anna and her mother, which seems to work.
Mr. Terupt is the amazing new teacher, who comes in and makes magic with their hearts and minds, until an accident changes them all. I want to read it again.
Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper, is also a jewel. I really like this new trend in YA lit that features protagonists with special needs. Lucy read this book first, even though I generally don't allow her to read books that I haven't read. She was very insistent that I read it too. She loved it, and convinced several of her classmates to buy it at the book fair last week.
It's about Melody, who has cerebral palsy, and cannot speak much beyond grunts and squeals. She has very little control over her limbs, can move her head and thumbs, and can kick her legs. She cannot stand or sit unassisted. She is misdiagnosed as severely mentally retarded when she is five. Her mother is told that she is incapable of learning. Yet, she is the first person narrator of the novel, and she has a photographic memory, but no one knows that yet.
Fast forward to age eleven. She is stuck in a remedial classroom. Her school begins the practice of inclusion with regular classes. This is the catalyst that turns things around for her. Eventually, she gets a computer that enables her to have a voice. She blows away her classmates and teachers when she is the first place qualifier for the Whiz Kids National competition. Melody experiences exclusion, ridicule and betrayal, but she also gets to experience positive things, like friendship and admiration.
Gosh, this book was so deep. I'm having a difficult time writing about it without making it seem trite and sugar-coated. I'm not at all surprised it's a Caudill nominee. I hope it wins.