I have a new book to recommend, for readers ages 8 to 12. “Crenshaw”, by Katherine Applegate, is a book about a boy whose family teeters on the edge of homelessness, and the big cat who comes to be his imaginary friend. I special-ordered this one from my library in honor of Challenge #2’s theme, to share with my 7 year old son, and then plunked myself down on the couch and read the whole book in one sitting (to myself).
It’s great! At the risk of sounding like I should be a special guest on Reading Rainbow, I will list off the things I love about this book.
1. One of the book’s main conflicts is the main character’s desire to be empowered with the truth. Jackson is a 10-year-old boy whose family has been homeless in the past and may be returning to that soon. His parents are consumed by the crisis that is dominating their lives, but won’t talk to their son about the changes that are brewing. Crenshaw (the imaginary cat) pushes Jackson towards a confrontation with his parents, who respectfully acknowledge Jackson’s request for more transparency in their family situation. In exchange, though, Crenshaw (really, Jackson’s developing moral compass) demands a shift in Jackson towards more honesty with others. Accountability!
2. Jackson is not a victim. He is certainly a victim of circumstance, as are so many homeless children. But he does not surrender to this and give up. Through the whole book, Jackson finds ways to challenge his circumstances, so that I never felt like he was a sad, defeated character. Resistance to oppression!
3. The end of the book does not resolve the family’s housing crisis. There is no miracle, in which the family is suddenly able to rise above their situation. (This instant fix seems to be a common thread among children’s books about homelessness.) The danger with these “hopeful ending” books is that we start to believe that the real world homelessness that so many families face is resolvable, temporary and to be cured with a miracle. We always want a happy ending.
The end of this book, however, far from being sad, is very positive and hopeful, because what Jackson resolves by the end is his own powerlessness in a frightening situation. Once he is empowered to speak his truth, ask for what he needs and be honest with himself and others, the housing crisis that his family faces feels manageable and less scary. Speaking truth to power!
4. It’s so fabulous that this book is respectful of young people’s abilities to understand complex problems and relationships. So many books belittle young readers by simplifying the very complex issues of the world. In a graceful, very readable story, Katherine Applegate offers young readers a very complicated tangle of emotions and situations, and as we untangle them we can see how a better world is possible. Youth Empowerment!
This is a great book for Parenting for Social Justice! The book has so many layers that we can uncover with our kids. Homelessness, youth empowerment, what it feels like to be powerless, truth and honesty, speaking your truth even when it’s scary to do so.
My son, soaking up cultural messages & values through a book.