Booked by Kwame Alexander. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016.
In Alexander’s second sports-and-life novel in verse after Newbury-winning The Crossover, middle schooler Nick loves soccer more than anything. Except possibly his best friend Coby, now playing on a rival team, and his crush, April. His parents are also going through a divorce, and that makes everything wrong. There are also some serious issues with bullies, but help comes in the form of a hip male school librarian, Mac.
I loved The Crossover so, so much – but my feelings about this were much more mixed. To start with the bad parts: too much of the poetry seemed like just sentences split up into short lines, rather than the amazing attention to word sound and different forms in The Crossover. It’s great that a librarian saves the day, but it grates to have it be yet another Cool Male Teacher vs. clueless females – see Fish in a Tree and Blackbird Fly for more examples of this. Also, bullying is a serious issue, and this book offers old-school rather than current research-supported advice: punch the bully, and everything will sort itself out. It’s really painful to see adults telling a kid that they won’t help him get his stolen bike back because he needs to man up and solve the problem himself. All of that being said, the book still made me cry. The characters were convincing and I was held by the story, despite my own personal lack of interest in sports in general. We desperately need more engaging books for the kids who love sports and don’t think they love books, so this is still important to have. Just follow it up with some real bully-proofing tactics.
I really loved Alexander’s recent article on race in children’s literature in the New York Times – take a look!
Spirit Week Showdown. Magnificent Mya Tibbs 1 by Crystal Allen. Balzer + Bray, 2016.
Mya (rhymes with papaya) Tibbs is a nine-year-old cowgirl, who lives with her big brother Nugget, her very pregnant mother, and her father, the owner of a feed & Western store. Spirit Week is the biggest event at her Texas school, and Mya has made a pinkie promise to be partners with her new BFF, Naomi. But it’s done by drawing, and her chosen partner, Mean Connie Tate, refuses to switch. Now Naomi is telling everyone that Mya is a promise breaker and calling her “Mya Tibbs Fibbs.” Even her big brother hears and gives Mya a hard time for being a liar! Can Mya win Naomi back? And is Connie as mean as Naomi’s always said she is?
I found this book while looking for books to add to my lists of books starring girls to read aloud to younger elementary classes (to match my Girl-Led Read-alouds for 4/5 Grade). This is so much friend drama that I’m not sure it would have the general appeal I’m looking for. That being said, I know from talking to teachers that friend drama is a huge issue among girls. This is a really good treatment of it – Mya makes great but believable strides as a character, and there is a nice balance of fun with the drama. Bonus – nobody dies or even gets divorced! Crystal Allen is a veteran author, and this book looks to be the opening of a series that should be a staple in elementary school and classroom libraries.