A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Since Jackson's a budding scientist, there's lots of information about animals woven into the narrative. The information is kid-friendly, delivered in Jackson's own voice in a "fun fact" format: A cheetah can run 70 miles per hour; when a horned toad gets mad, it shoots blood from its eyes. Crenshaw has a sophisticated vocabulary, introducing words such as "flummoxed" and "panache." Includes honest, specific details about homelessness and economic insecurity.
Homelessness and financial difficulties aren't shameful and can happen to loving, hardworking families. When going through hard times, it's good to be honest about your feelings and experience. In difficult times, friends buoy us.
Positive Role Models
Jackson's an excellent role model. A budding scientist, he's a close, articulate observer of his family and situation. He's attentive to his younger sister and her fears and needs. He learns to face and accept his own anxieties and pushes his family to deal with him honestly. Both kids are readers and talk about their favorite books.
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Crenshaw, by Newbery winner Katherine Applegate (The One and Only Ivan), is a masterful story about a family down on its luck, and though it tackles homelessness, it's never hopeless. Applegate doesn't sugarcoat the facts: About-to-be-fifth-grader Jackson and his 5-year-old sister often go without meals; when the family has to sell their belongings to meet the rent, Jackson's unnerved to see strangers pawing over his things. But his voice is appealing and winning, and since he's a budding scientist, he's a keen observer of his family's troubles. Jackson is visited by a giant cat, his former imaginary friend Crenshaw who's more persnickety than warm and fuzzy, and Crenshaw pushes Jackson and ultimately his parents to be truthful about their situation. Honest and very readable, this portrayal of economic insecurity flows effortlessly toward its hopeful but not unrealistic conclusion.
Is It Any Good?
This moving story of a boy facing hard times is pitch-perfect, never shying away from his family's hard economic realities, and is told in a voice that rings true and is gently laced with wry humor. When Jackson describes how his family had to live out of their van for 14 weeks, the detail is vivid: They washed their clothes in rest-stop bathrooms; the family ate burned pancakes discarded by a diner. But Jackson's family is loving, if struggling, and readers will enjoy Jackson's take on the situation and get how disturbing it is for him to have to deal with a giant cat only he can see.
Author Katherine Applegate is sensitive to the family's vulnerability as they're pushed to the economic edge because of health problems and layoffs. Her finely tuned portrayal of the musician parents, apprehensive narrator, and endearingly transparent 5-year-old sister (who knocks on her brother's door, worried that her parents are going to sell her trash can), is both heartbreaking and life-affirming.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.