Tuesday, April 10, 2007

All of the Above, by Shelley Pearsall

Four middle school students work together on a math project to build the world's biggest ever tetrahedron structure. The voices of these four kids are strongly developed in chapter-length first person narratives. There are a couple minor, adult characters who also have short chapters, including a math teacher who is the adviser of the project. The students are intelligent, resilient, passionate kids who want desperately to be accepted and to be part of something bigger than themselves. Although the plot is pretty simple, there were several surprising twists. The voice of the tough boy who was only doing the project cuz he had detention, but then became the group's determined leader, was particularly powerful and well-drawn. (If only cuz it really made me miss my student Jessie--and, when this character had to leave the school, which had become his safe and stable place, before the year was over--well, those were real, live, cathartic crocodile tears on my cheeks.) This was an excellent book to read the week after I found out that I'll be teaching sixth grade next year. It helped build my confidence that I'll be able to find plenty of perfect books for plenty of sixth grade readers.

Booktalk: Have you ever thought it would be really cool to be on a team that set out to accomplish something that no one thought possible? Start on page 5 and read the whole chapter. Explain the structure of the tetrahedron tower (show prop of a 2 layer structure) And then introduce the 4 main characters: Rhondell, (collects college words and reminds me of Akeelah of Bee fame), James, Marcel, and Sharice (pretty scary, serious issues with her foster/family situation). These four unlikely friends tell the story in chapter by chapter narratives, from their own POVs. Their family and life stories come together and yes, there's the story of the project, but there's also the stories of their lives. I liked: the math aspect, and the fully developed characters. I think 5th and 6th grade students will like: James, cuz he keeps it real, and the way they are very private about their problems, seems realistic that they don't just start sharing everything with each other. You'll like the ways these students work hard at something they all care about and also the way they have realistic problems that don't end with happily-ever-after.