The Carver Chronicles Series

Book review by
Carrie Kingsley, Common Sense Media
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Kids face challenges big and small in kind, engaging books.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

The students at Carver are always doing a project or homework assignment, so readers can learn about a variety of subjects throughout each book. The series also addresses issues of responsibility, procrastination, homelessness, bullying, and so much more. These non-academic subjects are the real educational value in these books and shouldn't be overlooked.

Positive Messages

These stories continually express the importance of being considerate of other people, giving a full effort, forgiving others and giving them the benefit of the doubt, and being generous.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The teacher at Carver, Ms. Shelby-Ortiz, has very high expectations of the children in her class, both academically and behaviorally, but she also understands that they're usually trying their best and gives them lots of chances to improve. All the adults in the stories -- the parents, extended families, teachers, shopkeepers, etc. -- are supportive of the kids in different ways. 

Violence & Scariness
Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Karen English's The Carver Chronicles series addresses difficult issues without being too heavy for kids to understand. Honesty, personal responsibility, determination, and compassion are blended seamlessly into captivating stories that tackle topics such as homelessness, bullying, poverty, and anxiety. Each book is written from a different child's point of view, but the characters all attend Carver Elementary School together, so the books are full of familiar characters. The students at Carver are from a wide variety of races and family situations, and young readers will surely be able to identify with at least one of the Carver kids' feelings, interests, and behavior. These books aren't light and funny, but they're engaging, well written, and thought provoking.

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What's the story?

Since THE CARVER CHRONICLES series is written from a variety of perspectives, each story is a fresh perspective on life at an elementary school. That each kid has a different background -- race, family makeup, income -- adds a layer of depth and relatability that's rare in books for young readers. Calvin learns that the school bully faces challenges in foster care that are beyond anything Calvin understands; Carlos faces huge adjustments when his cousin Bernardo moves into his room and his school; Gavin feels picked on by an overbearing relative. Along with their friends Richard, Nikki, Deja and the others in Ms. Shelby-Ortiz's classroom at Carver Elementary, the kids navigate heady topics. But, with trips to the skateboard park and soccer field, plus birthday parties and playground antics, these kids are definitely still kids.

Is it any good?

The changing perspective from book to book is one of the best things about this series, and helps promote one of the core values author Karen English seems intent on sharing: empathy. Throughout The Carver Chronicles, readers feel what it's like to walk in another kid's shoes, to make mistakes and to be misunderstood, to succeed, to fail, and to be loved. These aren't light, funny, easy reads; the topics are serious, and the books are well written and surprisingly deep for this age group. But it works. The stories are engaging, the vocabulary is age appropriate but offers some challenges, and young readers might be surprised how much they enjoy reading about the importance of responsibility and integrity.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the kids in The Carver Chronicles are so different from one another but also so similar. Calvin and Harper have very different personalities; what gets them to connect?

  • Knowing what you do about a few of the kids' backgrounds, what do you think Ms. Shelby-Ortiz thinks when she looks at the kids in her class every day?

  • What other books are about different kids at school together?

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