Donavan’s Double Trouble by Monalisa DeGross, illustrated by Amy Bates.
Amistad, HarperCollins, New York, 2008.
Realistic fiction chapter book, 180 pages.
Lexile: 550L .
AR Level: 3.8 (worth 4.0 points) .
Note: Donavan’s Double Trouble is the sequel to Donavan’s Word Jar.
Donavan’s got all kinds of troubles lately. Heritage Month is coming up, and he doesn’t know anyone to ask. He’s struggling with math and his younger sister is overtaking him. His favorite uncle is back, but no longer a firefighter. He doesn’t play basketball or teach dance moves anymore, because Uncle Vic’s National Guard unit was called up, and he came home without his legs. Donovan’s not feeling good about these changes – he just wants his old uncle back.
When I was trying to find books about PoC with disabilities, one word was overwhelmingly used to describe this book: sweet. Having read it, I would certainly agree.
It’s also educational. Large portions of the book center on Donavan’s school troubles, his attempt to do his math homework, and his love of words (established in the previous book). I didn’t find the educational aspects annoying but could see some young readers getting turned off by it. This is a sequel, but I haven’t read the previous book and was fine.
Donavan is centered inside not only a loving nuclear family, but also a large extended family. Although he lives with his parents, he sees his grandmother weekly and is close with extended family. His school environment supports education and not only accommodates but celebrates a variety of cultures. His friends are generally positive influences who share his values or even are good role models for him. I cannot explain how refreshing it was to read a book with this kind of background.
Donavan and his family are still black. The text occasionally nods towards ebonics, and at several points the word “dag” is used, which I think is a substitute for “dang”. They eat ethnically appropriate foods, and generally are not a white family simply described as dark-skinned, probably because the author is an #ownvoice.
The book contains one full-page drawing in almost every chapter. The illustrations are in pencil, so the images are hazy at times, but hairstyles and characters of various ethnicities are depicted appropriately. I loved that Uncle Vic in his wheelchair was included on the front cover.
Although Donavan’s Uncle Vic is a central character, he’s not mentioned until chapter three. After that, every chapter has at least a passing mention of him, but the main character of this story is Donavan, who also had some other issues to deal with. I liked that Donavan was trying to do the right thing but at several points did just the wrong thing instead.
There is a basketball element to this as well. Uncle Vic had been a great basketball player and a mentor to Donavan before, and both of them are struggling with the change in their relationship. Spoilers I was so happy Uncle Vic and his team played wheelchair basketball in the final chapter, and he and Donavan reconnected.
More Spoilers Uncle Vic has fallen in one scene and Donavan has to help him untangle his prosthetic legs. This pushes Donavan to look at his new Uncle Vic and confront the changes. He discovers that it’s not so scary after all. There are also comparisons between Uncle Vic’s refusal to accept much help and Donavan’s refusal to accept help in math. Both of them find a way to compromise and get help while also working on their own solution. I LOVED that there is a subtle romance between Uncle Vic and Donavan’s principal. If this series continues, I’d like to see their relationship progress. End of Spoilers
When I originally saw this book, Uncle Vic was mentioned as having PTSD. He certainly might, but he also could just be working through the trauma of losing limbs. While this could be a great book to begin a discussion of PTSD, it doesn’t specifically mention the term and contains no classic PTSD flashback episodes.
Another review suggested that Donavan had a disorder affecting his math. I did not read it that way at all. He might, but I felt he was a normal fourth grader struggling to stay on top of homework and reluctant to accept help.
I’d love to read any #ownvoices reviews about the prosthetics and wheelchair in this novel as I can’t speak to the accuracy of those aspects.
Hopefully this book will be required reading in schools. It’s not the sort of book most students will actually select on their own. This gentle book strongly encourages the value of education, family, and right actions. Some of the usual childhood concerns (worrying about a difficult subject, wanting a special job to do at school) are mixed with learning to accept a family member’s disability.
I would recommend this book for 2nd to 5th graders, and it could be read aloud to younger children who won’t be scared by the mention of war.