by Lisa Graff
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars
Albie’s fifth grade year is shaping up to be terrible. He got kicked out of the private school he goes to with his best friend, Erlan, who lives down the hall, and has to go to P.S. 183. Even worse, his new school features a bully, Darren Ackleman, and Erlan is sometimes unavailable to Albie because his family is going to be on TV and Albie’s dad didn’t sign the release form. Also, his parents found him a new babysitter, and math and spelling have always been hard for him.
At one point, Albie’s mom has him tested for dyslexia, and I found myself rooting for him to have it, because that would explain his trouble in school. His dad is very demanding about Albie’s grades and I was hoping that a diagnosis of dyslexia would make him back off. But it wasn’t dyslexia. Maybe Albie has autism? Nope. Turns out Albie is just not very smart, that’s all, which I found a little disappointing, though it is interesting that this is not an issue book. But as Calista, his babysitter, points out, he is kind and thoughtful and good. Ultimately, that seems to be the point of the book. At one point Albie gets singled out by the bully to be “cool” and he gets caught up in the rules of being cool. He gives his new friend Betsy, who has a stutter, unwanted helpful hints about how to be cool, and they make up when he stops being cool and goes back to sticking up for her. Betsy has a stutter and doesn’t talk much; on Albie’s first day, he stands up for her against Darren. Darren calls him all sorts of names, but none as often as Dummy. Eventually, with the help of his remedial math teacher Mr. Clifton (who has some fantastic math jokes), he learns to take the edge off Darren’s name-calling and it doesn’t bother him much anymore. Calista also lets Albie continue to read Captain Underpants, even though his mom thinks those books are for babies and wants him to read Johnny Tremain. His teacher also catches on and lets him read whatever he wants too, which made me want to cheer out loud. But I wished that someone would read TO Albie. Oh well, can’t have everything.
On the diversity front, just to name a few things in case anyone is looking for these types of diverse characters / families: Albie is half-Korean, half-white. He makes a new friend, Darissa, who has two dads. His friend Erlan is a triplet, and has triplet older sisters, and they are from Kazakhstan.