Brendan Buckley’s Universe and Everything In It by Sundee T. Frazier.
Yearling, Random House Children’s Books, New York, 2007.
Ages 9-12 chapter book fiction, 193 pages.
Coretta Scott King Award Winner, 2008 (John Steptoe Award for New Talent)
AR level: 4.0 (worth 6.0 pts)
This book I got from the library (SM) as I found the back matter intriguing. It focuses on ten year old Brendan Buckley over the summer between fifth and sixth grade. Only child Brendan’s Grandpa Clem has just passed away, his father is busy working as a police detective, and he plans on spending the summer hanging out with his best friend Khalfani, practicing Tae Kwan Do, and learning more about science. When his mom isn’t making him go to the mall with Grandma Gladys, that is.
On one of those mall trips, he wanders into a display of the local rock club and can’t wait to sign up. But his grandma sees him talking to the club president and drags him away – it’s his grandpa DeBose, whom he’s never met.
So now Brendan has a lot of questions. Why has he never met his white grandfather? Who is this guy? And what does it mean that he is mixed? What will it mean to look black as he grows up?
This was a solid novel. I really enjoyed reading about a middle class racially mixed family, especially seeing a father who is a detective and positive role model. Brendan’s father is very open with him about what it means to be a black man in modern society, and is working to prepare him for that role in his life. His mother is less willing to confront that side of his life or the racism in her own family, but she gradually comes around.
Early on in the book Brendan is still very sheltered and states that he hasn’t experienced racism. However, he is very quickly introduced to racial violence when he and a black friend go alone to a local park. Brendan sometimes struggles with making good choices and continually lies to his parents and his friend Khalfani’s family as he pursues his quest to learn more about his estranged grandfather.
His grandfather is not a good role model, repeatedly putting him into dangerous or awkward situations and leaving it to him to act as the adult and find his own way out. Luckily he has his martial arts training, his best friend, and his family to fall back on, and he eventually finds his way to the truth as his mother begins to realize she can trust him.
I really enjoyed reading about a boy who loved science. It was clear that the character was obsessed with Tae Kwon Do and mineralogy, and the references scattered throughout the book were followed up with two “Some More Things I Found Out” at the end of the book. While racial identity is a major theme of this book, it wasn’t really the first, or even second thing on Brendan’s mind most of the time. He read very much like so many gifted, nerdy boys I have known, and this is a lovely complement to the all too often sports themed books for boys of color.
This book came to my attention because it is required reading for the students in this year’s 4th/5th grade book club. I am quite curious how they will react to it. I don’t feel I can call it a favorite of mine, but I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the series, Brendan Buckley’s Sixth-Grade Experiment. Recommended for only upper elementary (due to violent scene) and middle school classrooms.
It’s nice to read about a healthy and realistic middle-class racially-mixed family and a boy who is obsessed with science, not sports. Despite some poor choices on his journey, Brendan could still be a role model for upper elementary and middle school students, especially those more interested in school than sports.