Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
Crenshaw Book Poster Image
Popular with kidsParents recommend
Pitch-perfect story about boy and family facing hard times.

Parents say

age 8+
Based on 9 reviews

Kids say

age 8+
Based on 12 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

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.

Positive Messages

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 & Representations

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.

Violence & Scariness

What 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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 7-year-old Written byamdilbeck April 12, 2021

Crenshaw was a great book for our almost-8-year-old.

From our grandson: I think that the story is very good. It really made me think. From the adults: We have been homeschooling during the pandemic and used th... Continue reading
Adult Written byelateacherfor4thies April 30, 2020

Realistic hardship topics that provide a smooth & perfect opportunity for students to learn about

My school purchased the novel for 4th grade students to read and respond to the current COVID-19 pandemic. I started reading the book during the evening and cou... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old March 31, 2021

It's rlly good!

It's really good and also long I think this book was really good and it was also my first ever book I recommend it! and its also very interesting.

What's the story?

In CRENSHAW, Jackson, the young narrator, is facing homelessness. His dad has multiple sclerosis, and after both parents are laid off from full-time work, they take a series of part-time jobs too-low paying to meet the rent. Because this happened before, when Jackson was in first grade, he's anxious and even more unnerved when the imaginary friend he had then, a giant cat named Crenshaw, returns. Is he going crazy? When his parents try to shield the kids from harsh reality, Crenshaw advises Jackson, "Tell the truth to the person who matters most. You."

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.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about money worries. Why is Jackson's family in trouble? Do you ever worry that your family is having a hard time?

  • Why does Jackson's imaginary friend from earlier childhood visit when Jackson is in fifth grade? Why do you think stories about imaginary friends are popular? Which others have you read?

  • Why does Crenshaw advise Jackson to tell the truth to himself and his family? Does it help? 

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love family stories

Themes & Topics

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