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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Crenshaw, written by Katherine Applegate. Feiwel and Friends, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2015. $19.50 ages 10 and up

"I guess for most kids, imaginary friends just sort of fade away, the way dreams do. I've asked people when their imaginary friends stopped hanging around, and they never seem to remember. Everybody said the same thing: I guess I just outgrew him. But I lost Crenshaw all of a sudden, after things got back to normal."

With a writer as skilled as Katherine Applegate has proven to be, it shouldn't be a surprise that she can take the terrors of homelessness and its effects on  a fifth grader and give us a sympathetic boy who looks to an earlier imaginary friend to help him cope.

She tells us the story of Jackson and his family. This is the second time they make the heartbreaking decision to live in their family's van. It is scary, and Jackson feels that he is old enough to know the truth about the family circumstances. In the midst of it all, his imaginary friend Crenshaw returns. Crenshaw is pretty special, with his baseball cap, his green eyes and his ability to communicate with Jackson. It's been years since they have seen each other - he appeared the last time the family was homeless.

Jackson talks to Crenshaw about being old enough to know exactly what is happening with his family. He is one of those kids who looks at the world scientifically and wants to know the facts. Interesting that his imaginary friend makes a return visit. His talks with Crenshaw are engaging. His awareness that the problems being faced are made worse when his parents try to protect him from the truth. The fact that Crenshaw has returned causes him some anxiety after three unremarkable and fairly stable years.

This story, told in Jackson's clear and concerned voice, allows readers to move back in time to the first time they faced such adversity. It makes it very clear that he is in need of a friend, and of knowing that things in his life will somehow settle into a more secure place. Crenshaw reassures him:

“Imaginary friends don’t come of their own volition. We are invited. We stay as long as we’re needed.”

and he gives Jackson some sage advice.

“You need to tell the truth, my friend….To the person who matters most of all.”

If you are looking for a fabulous first read in your middle years class, this would be a perfect choice.

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