Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff

Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff. 288 p. Philomel Books/ Penguin Young Readers Group, June, 2014. 9780399164057. (Purchased)

Ten-year-old Albie starts fifth grade at public school after he's kicked out of his tony New York City private school for failing to keep up academically. His frustrated parents don't understand why he isn't making the effort and his Grandpa Park is withering in his assessment of Albie. About the only thing he'll miss from private school is his best friend but since he lives in Albie's building, that's okay. Some of the bright spots in attending public school are his teachers - Ms. Rouse allows him to read Captain Underpants books and Mr. Clifton, his math club teacher helps him understand math. He has also made friends with Betsy, unkindly called, Stuttering Betsy by Darren, who has a litany of unkind names for Albie.

He does try and he does care. He's just not sure what to do. Then Calista comes into Albie's life and she finds ways to smooth the edges. When his mother forbids Captain  Underpants and insists he read Johnny Tremain, Calista creates a Johnny Tremain cover for his Captain Underpants book. Through her, Albie learns how donuts can turn a sad day better.

Short chapters and lovely writing perfectly capture dozens of little moments in Albie's life and made me ache for him and wish I could reach into the story to give him a hug. Graff seems to have a way with slightly oddball characters. I recently read and loved an older title of hers called Umbrella Summer. She first won my heart with Sophie Simon Solves Them All. And, last year, A Tangle of Knots was a National Book Award Finalist. It's no surprise that Absolutely Almost is getting some Newbery buzz.

This would make for a wonderful middle grade read aloud. I am also seriously in love with the cover. It is perfect!

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