“The trick was in knowing how to dispose of people when you were through with them, and Gilly had plenty of practice performing that trick.” page 51
The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson.
HarperTrophy, HarperCollins, New York, 1978.
Historical fiction, 178 pages.
Lexile: 800L .
AR Level: 4.6 (worth 5.0 points) .
At eleven years old, Gilly Hopkins already has a reputation for being unmanageable and a talent for moving homes. She has no interest in living with the Trotters and is determined to pull out all the stops to get out of this latest home.
I feel so conflicted about this book. On the one hand it seems to play into every old stereotype about foster care. The majority of Gilly’s homes are careless at best. But let’s start with some of the positives first.
Paterson must have had at least some knowledge of foster care, because there are some things she gets right. The difficulty of transitioning from one home to the next, the reluctance to love a new family, the battles over personal care and confusion over standards are all common. The dedication is to an adoptive child, so perhaps she learned about foster care through first-hand experience.
“Leaving Duinsmoore was one of the hardest decisions I had to make. In a matter of months, in the tiniest fraction of my life, Duinsmoore had given me so much.” page 278
The Lost Boy: A Foster Child’s Search for the Love of a Family by Dave Pelzer.
Health Communications, Inc. Deerfield Beach, Florida, 1997.
Memoir, 340 pages.
Lexile: 720L .
AR Level: 5.1 (worth 9.0 points) .
NOTE: Despite the reading level, this is an adult book, not suggested for MG readers.
Peltzer’s first book is all about the inhumane treatment he suffered at the hands of his mother. The second, after a brief recap of the abuse, focuses on his life in the foster care system.
I believe this was the first book that I ever read about foster care. Many years later, I found some of the series in a thrift store and decided to read through it again. After the sensational story of the first book, this one is significantly milder. Peltzer’s mother still has a lot of power over him – mentally, emotionally, and legally. But her physical control of his body is limited and he starts to heal in some ways.
“The story has two objectives: the first is to inform the reader how a loving, caring parent can change to a cold, abusive monster venting frustrations on a helpless child; the second is the eventual survival and triumph of the human spirit over seemingly insurmountable odds.” page 164
A Child Called “It”: One Child’s Courage to Survive by Dave Pelzer.
Health Communications, Inc. Deerfield Beach, Florida, 1993.
Adult memoir, 184 pages.
Lexile: 850L .
AR Level: 5.8 (worth 5.0 points) .
NOTE: Despite the reading level, these are books written for adults, not MG readers.
The early childhood of a severely abused boy.
This is the first, and most well-known, book in an autobiographical trilogy. Dave Pelzer was one of the most severely abused children in California. His father kept his mother from murdering him, but otherwise he was routinely tortured, starved, beaten, and otherwise maltreated.
The entire book should probably not be read by anyone who might find these events triggering. His parents also rely heavily on alcohol and his mother occasionally turns her rage from him to his father or others. It’s interesting that few reviews remark on this being an example of domestic abuse from a woman to a man. Male perpetrators are certainly more common, but it’s important to recognize that women can be abusers as well and to validate and hold a mirror up for male victims of abuse.
While the book is intense, it’s not overly emotional (although it can feel overwrought at times). Pelzer narrates with a steady, precise flow, documenting what it felt like for him to be a child in the total control of a sociopathic parent. I remember crying and crying on my first read through. However, after hearing or reading the stories of other children, this book is not so affecting on the second readthrough.
Five people gather for a pizza party and work together to make, then eat a pizza in this diverse early reader for children who have just mastered the basic sight words. This is the third book of my thrift store finds.
Angela Shelf Medearis and new-to-me illustrator Ken Wilson-Max team up for an early reader about playing in the snow.
Best Friends in the Snow by Angela Shelf Medearis, illustrated by Ken Wilson-Max.
Cartwheel books imprint, Scholastic, New York, 1999 (my edition is a 2003 reprint).
Seasonal realistic fiction, 22 pages + literacy activities.
AR Level: 1.1 (worth 0.5 points)
NOTE: Although I’m not reviewing it on Fiction Friday, this is a fiction book.
Two best friends, a white boy and a black girl, engage in fun wintertime activities in this simple early reader text.
Angela Shelf Medearis is the author – you probably don’t even need me to review it to know that it’s great. Both the author and illustrator are #ownvoices.
This book is just made to delight preschoolers. The words are simple, with no more than two sentences per page and often less. The first page has the longest text of the entire book. Ken Wilson-Max was new to me, although his style felt familiar.
The earliest readers need diverse books too! Here’s one appropriate for the beginning reader.
We Can! (also titled If You Can, I Can) by Gay Su Pinnell, illustrated by Barbara Duke.
Scholastic, New York, 2002.
Realistic fiction, 9 pages.
Lexile: BR (What does BR mean in Lexile?)
AR: not leveled
NOTE: Intended for the earliest beginning readers, a later edition is titled If You Can, I Can.
We Can is the sweet story of two non-white brothers, told in extremely simple words with pictures carrying most of the story, for the earliest of pre-readers and beginning readers.
I was delighted to find a nice selection of early readers at a local thrift store. It is incredibly difficult to find a good batch of books at this level in general, let alone culturally appropriate and diverse books, so I quickly sorted through the stack to find any that had diverse characters. At a dollar each, this particular store was a little expensive for pre-readers (most places sell used ones for 50 cents down even as low as 10 cents, especially for used books which have writing and highlighting in them as some of these did), so I wanted to only select those that I might not find elsewhere.