I just finished the third book in Jason Reynolds’s amazing Track Series and now I am waiting with baited breath for the fourth, and final, book to come out in October. If you haven’t already read these books, I highly recommend that you go out and try them. Understandably, I read a lot of middle grade fiction. But the reason I finally got around to reading this series is different and worth explaining.
My older brother is a middle school English teacher in Los Angeles. Teachers don’t get nearly enough respect, although I’m probably preaching to the choir. But here is the thing – these days, not only do teachers not get enough respect, they also are expected to provide their own classroom libraries. With all of the budget cuts and privatization of schools, one of the big areas that have suffered is school libraries. That is near and dear to my own heart as I work on my personal statement to get my Masters in Library and Information Science.
Teachers are already expected to do a lot. They work insane hours because the job is never contained to the classroom. They provide a lot of resources for their classes out of pocket because there isn’t enough money for the school to provide them. Now they are expected to also have a classroom library that they pay for with their own money and trust their students to take the books home and return them. Having a bunch of books available is one thing, knowing the right books to have is another. Don’t teachers already work hard enough? It is the role of a librarian to help curate the vast number of books out there. There are some teachers who love children’s literature and read it and follow up on trends, but we cannot expect all teachers to be able to do that. Heck, some have to work 2 jobs in order to pay the bills!
Recently, I was supposed to provide my brother with a list of books that might be good for his 8th grade classroom. I started to, really I did. Then I decided that I needed to do more, because books are important to me and because our teachers need all of the support that they can get, so I bought them. I bought 14 books to add to his classroom library. Was it a success? Resoundingly so! The kids have been reading them like crazy. Over the Labor Day holiday, 5 books were taken out by different kids. The one book that cannot be kept on the shelf – Ghost, by Jason Reynolds.
I know of Ghost, but until this past week had never read it. My older daughter read Ghost recently as it is on the MG Battle of the Books list this year. She loved it. None of the girls in my brother’s classes have had a chance to read it yet because all of the boys keep passing it around. Since I decided that I had to also purchase Patina and Sunny (books 2 and 3 in the series) for my brother’s class, I figured it was about time I read the books myself. If you have read them yourself, you already know, these books stand up to all of the hype.
Ghost is a book about Castle “Ghost” Crenshaw, a young, black kid who has a raw talent for running, but claims that basketball is his game. Ghost has been running ever since his father pointed a gun at him and his mother one night. In his neighborhood, however, basketball is the game. It is where people hang out and, unfortunately, where the drug deals also go down. Ghost wanders around after school since he doesn’t want to be home by himself. He often people watches, but one day winds up watching a local track team in their final round of try-outs. When he impulsively challenges one of the sprinters to a race, his talent shines through. But Ghost is also impulsive and angry and his mother’s one caveat for allowing him to join the team is that he can’t have any mess-ups in school. While this is a book about track, it is so much more. It is about the anger that Ghost has about his life – the fact that he lives in the poorest part of town, his embarrassment over not having the “best” clothes, and how invisible he feels. Reynolds artistically captures the angst, the importance the coach plays in his life, and the power of teamwork and friendship.
The minute I finished Ghost, I picked up Patina. When Ghost joins the track team, he is one of three “newbies.” Patina, aka Patty, is the only girl among them. This books picks up exactly where Ghost leaves off, but is now from Patty’s perspective and tells why she runs. Patty and her younger sister live with their aunt and uncle. Their father died unexpectedly and while their mom is still in the picture, she has “the sugar,” aka diabetes, and had to have both legs amputated which makes it impossible for her to care for her girls. Patty runs to get away from the taunts of the hair-flip girls at her new school. She runs due to the fear of diabetes taking her mother away completely. She runs because it is something for her when she has always had to take care of everyone else. But Patty won’t stand for anything less than first place and can have an attitude to go with it. When coach puts her on the relay team, she has to learn to put herself aside and be a true part of the team. Patty is awesome. She is strong, she is fierce, she is a defender, but she is also human and needs to let others take some of her burden. Another amazing book!
So, of course, I had to move to the third installment, Sunny. I wanted to get to it right away, but I also had things I had to get back to around the house, so I started Sunny as an audio book. This book has an absolutely AMAZING audio book with narration by Guy Lockard. Sunny himself is a really interesting character. He sees the world incredibly differently than others and this book is in diary format, so you getting to see Sunny sans filters. Before this book, we don’t really know much about Sunny except that he is an expert at running the mile. He runs the mile as if it was no big deal. He runs the mile because his mother was a runner and wanted to win a marathon, but died in childbirth. Here we learn that he calls his father Daryll instead of Dad, he is home-schooled by one of his mother’s friends, and his brain screams to be heard at times, but also sings out with syncopated beats as Sunny hears sound connections with everything. Sunny almost makes the most changes among the three so far but, like Ghost and Patty, he learns about himself and those around him in this short book. My daughter had a harder time with this book, but Sunny is just one of those characters that I wanted to wrap my arms around and let him know that he was loved.
So here I am, waiting for book 4. Lu is the fourth and final installment and is set to be released on October 23rd. I have already pre-ordered a copy so that I can read it and then send it on to my brother’s class.
These are the kinds of books that inspire kids. These are the books that we have to make sure get into the hands of kids who need to read them, but might not get to without a library system. As a part of my Middle Grade Monday series, what books do you think goes on that list?
Thank you, Michelle. School libraries were abandoned years ago in Los Angeles to make way for the failed billion-dollar attempt to replace books with iPads, and to pay for the hundreds of millions of dollars siphoned off by the executive salaries and shady real estate deals of financially unaccountable charter schools each year, and for silly testing data analytics, and so on… When the library closed, I just made do. My students have never had access at school to books published in this century — until now. They are thrilled. They are reading for the joy of it. A good library is more than a place to read. It’s a cornerstone of a community. Here’s a link to an article on the subject I read this morning: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2018/sep/24/palaces-for-the-people-at-the-library-everyone-is-welcome
I’m so glad that the books are being read and enjoyed. I have amazing memories of going to the library as a kid. It was always my happy place. When I had kids, it became a place to take them and possibly socialize with other parents. The library is so much more than books and it is very sad that people don’t see it that way. But school libraries are especially important when parents don’t always have the time or inclination to get their kids to public libraries or book stores.
Come to think of it, I wrote a ten page grant application for a few thousand dollars to buy books years ago, but the principal refused to sign it. I guess she wanted iPads instead. Sigh.
By the way, the girls have a hold of Ghost now.