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Sunday, September 11, 2016

A Boy Named Queen, by Sara Cassidy. Groundwood, 2016. $14.95 ages 10 and up

"It is wrapped in brown paper that Evelyn covered with stickers of dogs. Evelyn worked hard on the card. It's a drawing of Queen shooting baskets. She taped eight quarters between Queen's hands and the basket. They're supposed to be a ball traveling a perfect shot. The problem is that together the quarters are heavy. The card droops badly. Evelyn wishes she had chosen cardboard."

I am going to turn to novels for a few posts to catch you up on some books that you might like to share with middle grade students as the new year moves into full gear. It is through sharing stories that encourage empathy and tolerance for all members of our classrooms that we build community spirit and emotional growth.

Evelyn lives a pretty restricted family life. Her mother insists on compliance with family rules, and does things with her daughter in a very prescribed way: they buy the same shoes at the same store every year before school starts, Evelyn wears 'dresses only' to birthday parties, and the day before school the whole family observes a ritual:

"As always on the last day of summer holidays, Evelyn and her parents have spent the morning scrubbing their brown two-bedroom house that stands in a row of other brown two-bedroom houses. They've coiled the hose. They've packed up the badminton set with its rackets and birdies (Evelyn's mother, who is Scottish, calls them shuttlecocks) and stowed everything tidily in the garage. Finally, Evelyn's mother pronounces the house neat as a new pin."

It is not easy for the imaginative Evelyn to live according to such restrictive parameters. Her first day of grade five is much-anticipated and a revelation. Evelyn meets Queen, a boy who marches to his own drum and is nothing like any of their classmates. His hair is long, his neck is festooned with a variety of beaded necklaces, his jeans are torn and soon, he is her new friend. That friendship helps her learn that being fine with yourself and who you are is a worthy pursuit, despite the attention it might bring from others. Of course, that attention is not always supportive. To Queen, it matters not at all.

As the only guest at Queen's birthday party, Evelyn experiences a family markedly different from her own. They are an inspiration to her, and her visit with them is life-altering. I love this powerful and superbly written book. The characters are so clearly themselves, and certainly worthy of our admiration. The fact that two such diverse middle graders find their way to a strong and meaningful friendship is a message worth sharing.

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