Though I published my first book in 1986, it wasn’t until recently that I experienced book reviews. Despite a crazy assortment of books, plus forty titles in the Jigsaw Jones series, the books were never, to my knowledge, reviewed.
That’s the paperback world. I began to think my name was James “Critically Ignored” Preller. The consoling factor was the books were being read by their intended audience, with titles like Hiccups for Elephant and Wake Me In Spring selling more than one million copies (thanks to the might of Scholastic Book Clubs). Beats a review any day. And yet, and yet. There’s something about the validation that comes from a positive, industry-sanctioned review. I think I longed for somebody to say, “Okay, he’s in the club!”
Things changed when I entered the hardcover world in 2008 with Six Innings. Suddenly my work was deemed review-worthy. The coach tapped me on the shoulder; I grabbed my helmet and raced in from the sidelines: I was a playa! I’ll admit it: the world of reviews represents a confusing, seemingly arbitrary process. While I’m grateful to each reviewer who spends time with one of my books, I’m still afraid to read most of them. Some reviews are perfunctory at best, even when they say decent things about a book. Other reviews are canny and insightful. The whole process feels like a crapshoot. Who are these reviewers, anyway? These strangers who can fill my head with praise or cut me off at the knees (example: for the generally well-received Mighty Casey, a book-lover for Kirkus Reviews snarked: “As a writer of verse, Preller, author of Six Innings, makes an excellent prose novelist.”)
Freaking ouch. I’ll never rhyme again!
And then there are rare reviews that are just incredible, because of the source. That’s how I feel about this latest blog review by Franki Sibberson for Justin Fisher Declares War!
I first learned of Franki when I became a fan of her blog, A Year of Reading, which I discovered on the blogroll over at Literate Lives. I figured that Franki was just another fabulous Ohio-based teacher who loved books (they seem to grow like mushrooms out there). Later I noticed Franki’s name referenced in Ralph Fletcher’s most excellent book, Boy Writers: Reclaiming Their Voices.
I did a little research and soon learned that Franki was an accomplished author herself, co-authoring Beyond Leveled Books (with Karen Szymusiak and Lisa Koch), Still Learning to Read (Karen Szymusiak), Day-to-Day Assessment in the Reading Workshop (again with Karen Szymusiak), and more.
Clearly, Franki knows and cares about teaching reading in the elementary school. She’s invested and dedicated. As a former school teacher told me over lunch earlier this week, “teaching is an act of hope.” My guess is that Franki would nod her head at that comment.
So I’m honored by Franki’s review of Justin Fisher Declares War! A book that has not gotten much attention to date.
Click here to read the review in full — and then be sure to bookmark Franki’s site, because it’s an inspiration and an education. Here’s an excerpt from the review (I confess that it amounts to more than half of Franki’s review, because I didn’t have the heart to cut any good parts):
I am a huge James Preller fan but this may be my favorite from his list. Most of my teaching life has been in grades 3, 4, and 5. I feel very at home in 4th and 5th grade classrooms. I love the age and James Preller must also love this age. He really understands them and the struggles they deal with. Over the years, I have learned what a huge transition this age is for kids. They go from being little kids, to being big kids and it is sometimes a little confusing.
In this book, we learn that since 3rd grade, Justin Fisher has been the class clown. He is always up to something. He has good friends but in 5th grade, that seems to be changing. His friends and classmates have had enough and are starting to keep their distance. For me, this book is about figuring things out. Things that are cute and funny when you are 8, are no longer cute and funny when you are 11. This is a hard lesson for kids and finding their place in the world gets trickier. But Justin finds his way, thanks to an amazing young teacher (one that clearly deserves a spot on 100 Cool Teachers in Children’s Lit!).
If I were in the classroom this year, this would probably be my first read aloud. The first read aloud has always been key and the choice is always a hard one but there are so man reasons that JUSTIN FISHER DECLARES WAR would make a great first read aloud.
<< snip >>
Franki recently listed some recent raves for middle grade fiction — and I know I’ll be checking them out soon (if not reading every one, at least buying a few for my fourth-grade daughter, Maggie):
Out of My Mind by Susan Draper
Touch Blue by Cynthia Lord
Keeper by Kathi Appelt
Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine (already on my night table)
As Simple as It Seems by Sarah Weeks
Obviously, Franki really likes books with blue covers (goldfish and water optional).
And you know what else? She’s a huge James Preller fan!