Friday, August 21, 2020

Guy Friday- Isaiah Dunn is My Hero

Baptist, Kelly J. Isaiah Dunn is My Hero
August 18th 2020 by Crown Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Netgalley

When Gary Dunn died, he left behind Isaiah, his mother, and his young sister Charlie. It's been difficult, especially for the mother, who has had a lot of difficulty with the loss, has turned to drink, and has stopped going to work. Because of this, the family is living in a hotel that Isaiah calls the Smoky Inn, because of the strong odor of cigarettes. Isaiah has a good friend, Sneaky, who he helps with his candy resale business, even if it means going to a somewhat sketchy store his mother doesn't like to get their inventory. He struggles a bit in school, especially when classmate Angel gets on his case. He is sent to the office frequently, but the staff is usually understanding of his loss. Isaiah loves to write, just like his father did, and takes comfort in reading the notebook of stories that his father left behind, including stories in which Isaiah is depicted as a super hero who gets his powers from beans and rice. Getting those beans and rice proves harder for the mother as time wears on, and Isaiah is mortified when the family gets groceries at Seven Baskets, a food pantry, and he sees Angel there. Trying to help out, Isaiah goes to the local barbershop to ask if he can earn some money sweeping up hair; he knows that his mother and Charlie take great comfort in going to see Miz Rita at their own hair salon. He also spends a lot of time at the library, especially when he and Angel are assigned a project together. When his mother doesn't return to work, she gets behind on paying for the room, and the police come and kick the family out. After spending the night in their car and struggling through a day at school, Isaiah and his mother end up retrieving Charlie from Miz Rita's. The mother breaks down and tells Miz Rita how she has been struggling. The family stays with her for a while, and the mother eventually goes to rehab for a month. Isaiah has entered one of his father's stories in a writing contest, and he also works with the librarian to clean out a storage room in the library to turn into the Gary Dunn Writing Center to honor his father. With support from their community, the family starts find a path forward.
Strengths: Even though the mother is dealing very poorly with the father's death (on a personal level, I will never enjoy the depiction of grieving parents very much), Isaiah is trying very hard to find bright spots about his father's memory, and makes an effort to help his mother out. It's always good to see middle grade characters be industrious. I also enjoyed that he made peace with his nemesis, Angel, and found it interesting that she was so mean because of something she heard Isaiah say. The adults in Isaiah's life try to help, and ask the right questions, but don't follow through, which seems realistic. This was a great length and has a fantastic cover.
Weaknesses: This would be easier to get students to read if the story line besides the family's struggles had been a bit more fast paced. I liked that Isaiah enjoyed writing, but it does make for a slower paced story. Sneaky was an interesting character, and it would have been interesting to include more of his business dealings as a way to lighten the mood a little.
What I really think: This reminded me a little of Nikki Grimes's Garvey's Choice (the writing), Pyron's Stay (the housing insecurity) and Ogle's Free Lunch and Balliet's Hold Fast (general struggles). Even though Isaiah is a bit younger than my students, I think the story is an important and interesting one, so I will purchase it for my library. I will look forward to other books by this author.

It's interesting that this author has a picture book, The Electric Slide and Kai, coming out in July. The Electric Slide (aka The Hustle) is the only dance that I have ever been able to master!

Ms. Yingling

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