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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

because of mr. terupt, written by Rob Buyea. delacorte press, Random House. 2010. $19.99 ages 10 and up

"I like school. I'm good at it. I get all As. So when Mr. Terupt announced our first math project, I was excited. Dollar Words was crazy. Definitely not a worksheet problem, like all the others I had ever been given. Not even close! We had to assume that the letter a was worth one cent, b two cents, c three cents - and so on, making the letter z worth twenty-six cents. (LUKE)

As I listen to the chatter from the school playground across the street, I remind myself that in three weeks another school year will be done. Some of those students will move on to another town, city, neighborhood or school. Some will be back when the doors open in early September. I can only hope that many will be lucky enough to meet a teacher like Mr. Terupt. He is something!

I admire the writing (a debut novel), the design and the people I meet within its pages. Rob Buyea writes in the voices of seven fifth grade students, month-to-month throughout their school year. It is a real and quite astounding look at the diversity found in any school classroom. Each chapter is short and very personal. Each voice is authentic. They represent the gamut in terms of kids you might find in any classroom.

On the front flyleaf, we meet the seven:

"There's Jessica, the new girl, smart and perceptive, who's having a hard time fitting in; Alexia, a bully, your friend one second, your enemy the next; Peter, class prankster and troublemaker; Luke, the brain; Danielle, who never stands up for herself; shy Anna, whose home situation makes her an outcast; and Jeffrey, who hates school."

I'll bet, if you can think back that far, you will remember each one of those classmates; although their names may be different, the circumstances will be the same. We have met them all, or been one or the other at some point in time.

After reading the book the first time, I have gone back to read one student's views from beginning to end of the year, before moving on to the next student. It is testament to powerful writing that each voice remains clear and distinct. They see the same things so differently. They are memorable and worthy of our attention and Mr. Terupt is a teacher we might all aspire to be, or hope to have at some point in our school life.

He is gifted. He sees in each of them their own potential, and encourages them through class and individual assignments in ways that allow their lights to shine. Not one of them is perfect,  Mr. Terupt included.  He is unlike many of their former teachers...he seems to know the right word at the right time to give each of these particular students the 'outs' they need when they need them, to interest them in assignments that engage them, and to encourage them to try something that may not seem within their comfort range.

It is his first year. Not everything goes as planned. A classroom celebration that includes playing outdoors in the snow, and a dramatic accident is a life changer for everyone involved. It is emotional
and powerful storytelling and a most worthy addition to your TBR this summer pile, if you have not yet read it. I think it would make a wonderful 'WELCOME BACK' readaloud for September in any middle years classroom.

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