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Monday, December 14, 2009

Where the Steps Were, written by Andrea Chang. Wordsong. 2008. $22.00 ages 8 and up

“Our teacher is so tiny,
I know I weigh more,
and her name’s so long
but she says just call her
Miss D.
Miss D.
my name starts with D too, Dawn,
like the morning. “

When the third graders at Pleasant Valley Elementary School learn that their inner-city school is scheduled for demolition, they are concerned and have much to say. Their teacher, Miss D, is the one who gives them the confidence they will need to move on and find comfort in their new school. The five distinct voices of the students give us a glimpse at their final year and the events that make it special. They are busy at home and at school, each with their own trials and dreams. At school they take roles in a play, make field trip visits, do science experiments and learn about the Civil War and civil rights. When they are kicked out of a theatre through no fault of their own, they have the confidence and skills to send a letter to the theatre manager offering their point of view and asking a pertinent question about his reasoning for the ejection. Bravo!

It is not often that a novel in verse is written for a young audience. The five clear and youthful voices offer snapshots of the lives that these children live, and in succinct, heartfelt text. I think that writing poetry must be one of the most difficult ways to tell a story, while also being the most wonderful way to do it. The word choice needs to be almost perfect in order to give details, to give heart to the characters and to tell that story in the most concise way. In Andrea Chang's adept hands, this story is perfect.

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