Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Itch /The Boy at the Back of the Class

Farquhar, Polly. Itch.
February 4th 2020 by Holiday House
Public library copy

Isaac is not native to rural central Ohio, but he and his family have managed to settle in. His best friend, Sydney, has severe food allergies, but Isaac (who is called Itch by some of his classmates) is very protective of her. Isaac's nickname comes from a skin condition he has that results in a horrific itch, often causing him to scratch his skin raw. Sixth grade gets off to a rocky start when a tornado destroys part of the school, but classes start on time, and Itch is thrown into all of the middle grade drama. There is a new boy, whom they call Homer, who is even more unaware of the local worship of the Ohio State Buckeyes football team, and who carries an Epi-Pen for his own food allergies. Itch works at a pheasant farm, and is dealing with the fact that his mother is working in China and won't be home for months. When students share food in the school cafeteria (which is against the rules for good reason), Sydney ends up in the hospital with an allergic reaction, and Itch thinks it is his fault. So does Nate, who bullies Isaac, giving him a black eye, relentlessly bothering him, and even asking for a pheasant. Isaac feels guilty and doesn't visit Sydney, but tries desperately to get a bird to Nate, thinking that this would make things okay. Itch does get put on some new medication in hopes that it will help his condition. He manages to steal a bird, but will it make Nate happy? Will he be able to repair his relationship with Sydney? And how will it affect his job?
Strengths: I loved the rural Ohio setting, and the details about Buckeye worship will make my students really happy. It is also great to see #ownvoices representation of Isaac's skin condition and severe food allergies. (I'm willing to count the parent of children with allergies as #ownvoices!) This was a great length, moved along quickly, and had some good classroom drama.
Weaknesses: I wished this had been a bit more like Alyson Gerber's Braced and Focused, and given us more information on exactly what Isaac's condition was. I was also curious how the school dealt with the tornado damage, and about Mr. Epple's hearing problems. As an adult, I had trouble connecting to Itch's idea to steal a pheasant because it was such a bad idea. My students will not agree with me.
What I really think: I will purchase for the portrayal of children with health issues and the central Ohio connection.

Rauf, Onjali Q. The Boy at the Back of the Class
August 6th 2019 by Delacorte Press
Public library copy

When a new boy comes to a British primary school, he is kept away from the other students for a while. Wanting to be kind, they wonder what is going on, and try to smile at him and even give him small gifts of food. They eventually learn that he is from Syria and has fled devastating conditions, but speaks no English. He eventually gets an interpreter, Ms. Hemsi, and is able to take more of a role in Ms. Khan's class. Our main character and his friends try to welcome Ahmet and be kind to him, although there are a few people who do not. The children also hear negative things about refugees from adults. After an incident with the school bully and some current events, the main character (whose name is hard to find, if it is ever stated) writes to the queen. When he doesn't hear back, he tries to get a letter to her at the palace, but instead sparks a newsworthy misunderstanding. Eventually, Ahmet settles in, and light is brought to the immigration issue by students who are nine and three quarters years old.
Strengths: This was an exceptionally kind book that should hopefully improve understanding of immigration issues for young children and it was a quick and well written read.
This had a very British feel to it, not just in the details of the setting, but in the general tone. The main characters life is hard (father is dead, mother works a lot and is rarely home), and school figures largely in his life-- this had a younger, Tom Gates sort of ring to it. Like John Boyne's books, the main character is somewhat precocious, but oddly clueless at the same time.
What I really think: I wish this had been from Ahmet's point of view. It would have made this worth buying even though the students are so young.

Ms. Yingling

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