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Absolutely Almost

(i)

 

Sweet, funny, poignant tale of struggling 10-year-old.

What parents need to know

Educational value

Many kids will relate to Albie's struggles in school and empathize with his triumphs, such as "accidentally doing math" by dividing a pack of 100 paper cups into four equal stacks of 25. Young readers also will learn a lot of detail about day-to-day life in New York, from the neighborhood bodegas to the subway; along the way they'll pick up interesting details, such as the Chinese words for "thank you" and the fact that the family of Albie's best friend is from Kazakhstan.

Positive messages

Strong messages about kindness, friendship, finding out who you really are, and standing up for those you care about. Also about discovering there's often more to people than your first impression might suggest and being stronger than people who are mean to you.

Positive role models

Albie's overachieving parents often fall short, but they clearly love their son and try to teach him good values. His nanny, Calista, opens up his world by appreciating him and bringing him on fun adventures but also leads him down the slippery slope of lying to his parents. Some of the teachers at his new school are understanding about his learning issues and help protect him from bullies.

Violence & scariness

The violence is mostly emotional here, as the self-appointed "cool kids" call Albie and his friends names such as "dummy" and "retard." Albie and Calista watch a python devour a pig at the zoo.

Language

The "cool kids" call Albie and his friends names, including "dummy" and "retard." Brief references to butts and the fact that Central Park carriage horses poop.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Absolutely Almost follows in popular author Lisa Graff's tradition of interconnected plot threads and light, upbeat stories resting atop deeper issues. In this case, 10-year-old Albie struggles with living up to his parents' expectations, coping with mean kids at school, dealing with change, and figuring out what he's more than almost good at. Along the way he has quite a few adventures -- usually with his babysitter, Calista -- that broaden his horizons, teach him new skills, and get him into trouble -- such as the time he doesn't want to face the mean kids at school, so he and Calista go to the zoo instead. Many kids will relate to his difficulties, appreciate his triumphs, and laugh at the gentle humor. (If they've missed the Captain Underpants series, Albie's enthusiasm for it may steer them in that direction.)

Parents say

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What's the story?

Ten-year-old Albin ("Albie") Schaffhauser isn't very good in school or at much of anything compared with his parents (his Swiss-American dad and Korean-American mom are busy overachievers) or his friends (one of whom becomes a reality show star). He makes the guy who delivers the Chinese takeout to his family's eighth-floor Manhattan apartment very happy because he can't calculate and always overtips. His fancy private school has booted him for not being able to keep up academically, so now he's starting public school, where he meets caring teachers, makes a friend, and encounters mean kids. However hard he tries, he's never better than ABSOLUTELY ALMOST good at anything. Helping him get through it all are some kind teachers and the free-spirited art student his parents hire as his nanny.

Is it any good?

QUALITY

Many a kid has failed to measure up to expectations, and Albie's struggles to figure things out and deal with being called "dummy" will resonate with a lot of young readers. Some will feel good figuring out some things before Albie does, from math to social cues. Albie's day-to-day life in Manhattan will fascinate kids who live elsewhere, from visiting the bodegas and the Bronx Zoo to riding the subways -- and experiencing what happens when the subways break down. The adventures (and coping skills) of his best friend Erlan's family when they become reality TV stars will have young and old readers in stitches.

Characters reflect New York City's diverse culture in a light, matter-of-fact way: Albie's mom is Korean-American, and his dad is Swiss-American; Erlan's family comes from Kazakhstan; and one of Albie's classmates has two dads. 

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about how hard it is to try to do the right thing when something always seems to go wrong -- or to not feel good enough. Have you ever felt like this? How did you deal with it?

  • Have you read any other books about kids who live in New York City? Do you think you'd like to live there? What do you think you'd like best?

  • Albie's secret superhero identity is Donut Man. What's yours? What's your superpower?

Book details

Author:Lisa Graff
Genre:Friendship
Topics:Friendship, Misfits and underdogs
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Philomel
Publication date:June 17, 2014
Number of pages:304
Publisher's recommended age(s):8 - 12
Available on:Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
Award:ALA Best and Notable Books

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Teen, 13 years old Written bygilgamesh July 31, 2015

Amazing

This book gave so many twists and turns I loved it
What other families should know
Educational value
Great role models

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