Monday in the Middle: The Crossover, El Deafo, and Stella by Starlight
We are so excited to have Gabija Fischer blogging with us. Gabija, a librarian and media specialist, will share “must read” titles for middle school students here every first Monday with her series, “Mondays in the Middle.”
By Gabija Fischer
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
Having received the 2015 Newbery Award and Coretta Scott King Honor, The Crossover by Kwame Alexander is sure to please. Although basketball plays a leading role in pre-teen Josh Bell’s life, this basketball season, Josh’s life is consumed more by the challenges of having a lovestruck twin brother and a stubborn father. Growing up with an ex-professional basketball player as their father, Josh and Jordan are expected to be excellent athletes, and they are. Josh’s greatest opponent, however, is not on the court. He faces the reality of growing up, of coping with changing family dynamics, of dealing with his confusion and anger. Despite his initial unwillingness to meet these opponents, Josh begins to understand his position in this game of life. And because Josh faces these opponents, he grows from them.
Told through Josh Bell’s poetry and raps, The Crossover exudes Josh’s love for his father, his brother, and his sport. It is easy to feel his pains, his successes, his struggles, his uncertainty. It is easy to cheer him on. After all this is a story not just for basketball fans. Alexander’s use of basketball as a metaphor for life allows this story to reach a far greater audience. This story highlights the reality that sometimes we win and sometimes we lose in life, but always we can take these experiences as opportunities for growth.
(Word nerd note: If you read this book, you will learn the definition of one of my favorite words: pulchritudinous. I see this word as a reminder to not judge by appearances alone. Not only does this word look clunky, but its sound is harsh. This word is not what it seems. There is an entire poem in The Crossover dedicated to the word pulchritudinous.)
El Deafo by Cece Bell
I’ll never again make this statement: I don’t like graphic novels. Cece Bell has redefined for me the marriage of words and images in her graphic memoir El Deafo. At a young age, Cece Bell loses her hearing as a result of a case of meningitis. She must then combat the perceived and actual social stigmas surrounding her hearing aids while navigating fitting in at school and in her neighborhood. In addition to adapting to a new way of understanding the audible world, Cece must also teach her friends and family how to best communicate with her. Moments of embarrassment and of misunderstanding inspire Cece to create an imaginary superhero, El Deafo, whose Phonic Ear gives her extraordinary hearing abilities.
Told from Cece’s perspective, the challenges she faces are not only described clearly, but the images show what Cece hears through empty, fading, or garbled speech bubbles. While not an overly emotional story, Bell is able to evoke empathy with this amusing and informative story. El Deafo is not only a story about a young girl adjusting to life with her hearing aid, but it is also a universal story of fitting in while feeling different.
Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper
Sharon Draper did it again; she hooked me right from the beginning of Stella by Starlight just like she did in her other books. In just the first few pages, readers see that darkness can hide secrets. Darkness hides Stella’s writing, Tony’s running, and the KKK meeting. Or so they all think. It quickly becomes clear that the truth cannot hide under the veil of the night. As the KKK activities put the community on edge, Stella, with the heart of a writer, craves putting her thoughts on paper while keeping herself and her family safe. Draper highlights the value of kindness and the power of human spirit in the face of a dangerous time period in American history.
Draper tells Stella’s story of what it was like living in fear of the KKK. While this book left me a bit unfulfilled as there seemed to be a few too many contrived parts that prevented me from getting totally lost in the story, what kept me reading, however, was Stella. As a bright, bold, and determined 11 year-old, of course Stella would have the curiosity that would lead her to make the discoveries she does. Of course she would have questions. But, most of all, of course she would do anything for her family. Her fears, her desires are realistic and left me turning the pages hoping for her to prevail. Middle grade historical fiction fans will certainly devour Stella by Starlight.
Gabija Fischer currently works in the Tredyffrin Easttown School District. She has been immersed in young adult and children’s literature this school year since she is currently working as the library media specialist at the middle school. The best part of her day is the part that follows the question, “Can you help me find a book?” Finding the answer to that question feeds her competitive nature, as she views the search like solving a puzzle. She finds much excitement in finding just the right book for someone.