July 15, 2014
The thing that caught my eye and made me pick this book up was the title on the cover. I was curious as to why the cover looks like an ad for Absolut Vodka. There's no reason. Just a poor choice by the designer and illustrator. On the other hand, it made me pick the book up.
Anyway, that's all beside the point. This is a sweet, sad, funny book. It's about a fifth grader named Albie Schaffhauser who lives in an apartment building in New York City with his mother and father. We slowly realize that Albie has learning difficulties. Albie narrates his own story and, while he knows that things are harder for him than other kids, he doesn't really know that Learning Disabled is a thing. His parents won't admit it and have been trying to make Albie fit into their ideal of a smart, straight A student like Erlan, who lives down the hall and is Albie's best friend..
But when Albie gets kicked out of the posh Mountford Academy and has to go to public school, things begin to change. The kids are different. Erlan goes to Mountford, not P.S. 183. The kids at the public school are mean. Albie begins to realize that the kids really mean it when they call him "dummy."
But around the same time Albie gets a new nanny named Calista. She is an artist and is not like any grown up he's ever met. Calista gets him. She helps him to realize his own worth.
I just wanted to cry at times while reading this book. Life is just not fair for kids like Albie. It was especially poignant at this time because I'm seeing some similar parent/child interactions at the library this summer. One child - probably about fifth or sixth grade - was with his grandmother. She wanted him to pick a book to read over the summer. She kept saying to me as an aside to me (although he could hear her just fine), "he hates to read. I just don't know. He just hates to read."
I noticed that he had a football shirt on. So I suggested a Mike Lupica book. There was another kid standing nearby who said, "Oh yea. That book's great." But the kid said, "No, I tried that. I tried them all." And he walked away. I knew right then he hated to read because he couldn't read very well.
I wanted to take him aside from his grandmother (where she couldn't hear) and ask him if he didn't like to read because he struggled. But I couldn't do that without embarrassing him. So he ended up picking up a Geronimo Stilton book. I suggested pairing it with an audiobook of the same title so that he could read and listen at the same time. He took me up on that suggestion. Grandma didn't like that very much, but she was ok. At least he chose a book. She then went on to tell me she didn't know why he didn't like to read because she loved to and so did the boy's mom.
I've seen several kids like that this summer. So it broke my heart to read this book. It ends on a hopeful note, so I wouldn't consider it a sad book. But it's real and that's what breaks my heart.