Thursday, January 12, 2017

Ghost, by Jason Reynolds (ages 9-14) -- a strong favorite in our Mock Newbery discussions

“When I first picked it up, I thought it was a biography because it was so real.”--Sam, 4th grade
Kids across Berkeley are responding to Jason Reynolds' new book Ghost, talking about how it feels so real to them that they imagine themselves being right there with Ghost. This is definitely one of their favorite books, as we head into our Mock Newbery discussions--one that will stay with readers for a long time.
by Jason Reynolds
Atheneum / Simon & Schuster, 2016
audiobook narrated by Guy Lockard
preview on Google Books
Your local library
ages 9-14
*best new book*
Castle Crenshaw, who calls himself Ghost, is a kid my students can relate to. Some students know what it's like to have so much "scream inside" that they can't control it; others relate to working and struggling to join a team, but then having a bad decision almost cost you everything.

Jason Reynolds brings readers right into the story with his conversational tone. You can imagine being right inside of Ghost, in his head as he's watching a track team practice, eating sunflower seeds, thinking about how he could run faster than any of those kids on the track. Reynolds hooks readers just a few pages into the book when Ghost shares when he discovered he could run so fast -- the night his father shot at him in a drunken rage, as Ghost and his mother ran for their lives.
"I really loved the beginning. It was pretty tough, but it hooked me in. When he got into the track team, it relieved me. He still made some terrible choices, but he gets through them."--Rosa Parks 5th grader
Some students noted how Ghost is a complicated character--and they were very engaged by his struggles to figure out how to fix the problems he created. Many noted how much they liked seeing Ghost change and grow during the story. They definitely responded to the pacing, talking about how they couldn't put this book down--staying up all night to finish it. And the ending, oh my.
"The ending was hard. It was so good that I hurt because it was over."--Sakura, 5th grade
I have been particularly impressed by how 4th and 5th graders responded to the difficult topics of domestic violence and poverty. Reynolds helps kids think about these issues, and he creates space for acknowledging what it takes to keep going through these difficulties. He crafts a story that is full of hope and warmth, humor and relationships, even though it is also a story of struggles and bad decisions.

I absolutely agree with my friend, school librarian Eric Carpenter, who wrote on the blog Heavy Medal:
"Its spare prose creates the most authentic voice I’ve ever encountered in a contemporary piece of middle grade fiction. I can’t remember the last time a realistic, modern character sounded and acted so much like the students at my school...

Let’s think about Castle. What he wants more than anything else is an identity that is anything but a victim. He seems himself as a basketball player but won’t try playing. He is obsessed with world records because to him the record holders gain new identities by accomplishing crazy feats."
Ghost will certainly stay with my readers. I've noticed how this book appeals to a really wide range of kids, regardless of background or interests. Sporty kids love it; introspective thinkers love it. Here's how one reader summed it up:
"I liked how he eventually figured it out and solved (his problems), and helped himself even if he's the one who hurt himself. I liked how he kept working from nothing."--Rosa Parks 5th grader
Will this win the Newbery? It's definitely one of the best books I've read this year. But some may find the language too colloquial, and want to have more figurative language. It depends on how you balance the different elements, which you place more importance on. All I know is that I'll be sharing this with students for years to come. And it will be a book that stays with them in their hearts. That's what matters in the end.

I want to send special thanks to the whole team in Berkeley who's been supporting our Mock Newbery project, especially our library director Becca Todd. The review copy came from my public library. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2017 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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