Monday, April 09, 2007

All of the Above

by Shelley Pearsall

Yet another based-on-a-true-story tale of inner-city kids overcoming adversity with the help of an inspiring teacher — but I don't mean that in a bad way. The concept has been over-used in movies, but the author, a former teacher herself, makes it work on a kid-friendly level in this cute, heartwarming book. (We're talking upper end of the J-fiction age range.) The kids form a sort of math club to try and build the world's largest tetrahedron, but the story is all about the kids and doesn't dwell on the math long enough to become nerdy.

Rotating chapters through different characters' points of view is risky in a book of this length, but it's pulled off fairly well. From the junior thug with a heart of gold to the frustrated white math teacher, most of the characters display a basic goodness, but not without flaws. The range of characters ensures most young readers will find one with whom to identify. (All the characters are black except the teacher.) The ending is positive and upbeat without being overly triumphant; it's realistic because you can see the kids' problems aren't all magically fixed by this one success story.

I would definitely recommend this book for average middle-school readers and younger kids reading above grade level. Although the story and the characters would probably appeal to a reluctant or struggling readers, the length might be an obstacle for them.

[Note to readers: I promise I'll do some grown-up stuff soon.]

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