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Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Breakout, written by Kate Messner. Bloomsbury, Raincoast. 2018. $22.99 ages 10 and up

"I'm on the bus and I have a stomachache because I started a fight with Cole and Walker today. It was dumb because it was about Elidee, and she's not even my friend or anything.

Actually, I'm not sure I want this in the time capsule. I've gotten used to writing to you, though, so I'm going to write and decide later if I want you to read it. That way, I can write without worrying about what you'll think of me."

As the end of the seventh-grade school year approaches, students in Ms. Morin's English class are given summer homework. At least five items must be submitted to be placed in the Wolf Creek Community Time Capsule, a capsule meant to be opened in fifty years. Students are given a long list of pieces to be included, and invited to think of other ideas. The list cites such items as letters, personal narratives, descriptions, conversations, poems, appropriate jokes, student-written news articles, editorials and comics, lists, notes to yourself, hopes, dreams ... the list goes on.

Nora and Lizzie have always lived in Wolf Creek. It's a small town whose claim to fame is that it is the site of a maximum security prison. Nora's father is the superintendent. Lizzie is Nora's best friend, whose grandmother works in the prison. Elidee is a new student, just arrived from New York with her mother to be close to her brother, an inmate at the prison. Elidee, one of only two African American kids at the school, is struggling with her new reality and her longing to be back at her old school.

Following the escape of two dangerous inmates, the tenor in their small town changes. Kate Messner tells her story through the writings of the three girls, with additional information provided through school announcements, text messages, comics, and recorded and transcribed conversations. Through these, we get a real sense of the girls' personalities, their home lives, and their changing feelings about their community.

Nora does her reporting to future residents of Wolf Creek, letting them know her thoughts about her community and some of its members, the drama caused by the breakout, and her reactions to issues of race and criminal justice that she is noticing. Lizzie has aspirations to be a reporter, and uses her comedic skills to parody various events relating to school and community. Elidee writes letters to her brother Troy that often include poetry she is writing in an attempt to find her own voice. Her attendance at a performance of Hamilton in New York has had a huge impact on the way she thinks. She also is impacted by Jacqueline Woodson's poetry and also uses it to guide her own writing. 

I found the variety in writing styles and formats appealing and powerful. Each of the girls learns a lot as they get to know each other better, and become aware of some issues that have not been so obvious up until now. It gives both Nora and Lizzie pause to think on some pretty disturbing insights.

What a terrific way to build a reading community in your classroom were you to begin the year with this book! It will inspire in-depth and meaningful conversations, and perhaps help students consider their own feelings concerning elemental issues of race and privilege.

The book lists provided in the back are welcome and wonderful  .... and relevant.

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