I had my annual performance review the other week, and my boss has set some pretty high goals for me for the coming year. I, of course, set myself some, too, the most daring one being to tackle the reading lists for the Battle of the Books for both fifth grade and middle school students.
If you've never heard of BOB, think of the old Brain Game. It's a bit like that, but with literature as your only category. When I first started talking to one of my young patrons about BOB, I asked which book she was responsible for. She gave me an odd look, and I said something like, "That's how it works, right? You read one of the titles, and you're the go-to person for questions on that book?" The answer I got floored me. "Oh no!" this young brainiac replied. "You have to read and know ALL the books."
There are somewhere around 25-30 books on the current list.
That's a lot of books. And while I do read a lot myself, it might take me a couple of months at least to get through that many. And then have to answer questions on any/all of them?
Then August has a bombshell dropped on him: his parents have decided he's well enough to start attending Beecher Prep. He'll be a brand new fifth grader, just like all the other kids entering fifth grade. Except that August isn't like all the other kids, and not just in his looks.
There are some nice dynamics here, and I really like the anti-bullying message. It's done with a fairly light touch as well as some humor. I thought the relationships in August's family were well-done, showing that parents don't always agree with each other, that they're human beings with feelings too. Then there's his big sister, Olivia. I really thought Palacio did an awesome job writing from the perspective of a sibling who has always been willing to stand back in the shadows, knowing that her special-needs brother comes first. When Via (as the entire family calls her) enters high school, though, she sees her chance for a new start, one that puts her as most important. It's tough reading her conflict at times; it's clear she loves her baby brother, but it's just as clear that she's suffered because of him, too.
While I really did like the book, I will admit to finding myself a bit skeptical that kids would warm up to August as they did. Granted, it doesn't happen overnight, but still...would real kids in this sometimes very cruel real world do the things these characters did? I kinda doubt it. I want to hope that they would, though, and perhaps if those kids read this book, they will.
One down, many, many more titles to go.