Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Book Review: Also Known As Harper

Also Known As Harper by Ann Haywood Leal. Grades 4-7. Henry Holt, 2009. Copy provided by my local library. Because libraries rule and where would we be without them?

(This is a 2009 Cybils nominee and this review reflects only my personal opinion of the book, not necessarily the opinion of the panel!)

Harper Lee Morgan loves words. It's a love she inherited from her mama, a lady so in love with To Kill a Mockingbird that she's read it at least 36 times and named her firstborn child after its author. Yes, Harper loves words, and she's certain that she's going to win her school's poetry contest. The only problem is that she and her mama and her little brother Hemingway have been evicted from their house, so getting to school has become a problem. But Harper's determined to get to school for the poetry reading, just as determined as she is to rid herself of any memory of her whiskey-soaked daddy who told her that her words weren't worth anything.

This book opened my eyes. Maybe it's because I've recently relocated to a community where homelessness, unemployment, and underdevelopment are staring me right in the face. Maybe it's because Harper was a character that leaped off the page with her poetry notebook and her frank observations of the world around her.

You're sitting at a computer right now, reading these words. Imagine if you not only didn't have a computer, but didn't have a home or an office in which to sit. Now, imagine you're a child that doesn't have a home. You might be transient because you're traveling to stay with various family members. You might be avoiding social services for fear that they will break up your family. You might be expected to stay out of school to watch younger siblings.

How would you ever get to school and get the education to get yourself a decent job and a stable home? To me, it seems insurmountable. Even Harper Lee Morgan, a child so passionate about getting to school that she tries to hop on the first school bus she sees, can't seem to manage it.

So, that's what I loved about this book: it brings the issue of homelessness to light. It's certainly a conversation-starter. And it's a good read, too. I loved all the different characters. I normally find it somewhat annoying when a book character is a writer and includes their own poetry or stories, but it worked for me in this book.

I'd hand this to any kid who likes books like Waiting for Normal, Home and Other Big Fat Lies, and others in that ilk. (In fact, I know one of my staff members would love this book and I'm going to hand it to her as soon as I can remember to bring it to work with me.)

Do check out other reviews over at Shelf Elf, A Patchwork of Books, Literate Lives, Becky's Book Reviews and A Year of Reading. And you might be interested in Ann Haywood Leal's blog, her guest post at Harmony Book Reviews about untangling her mind, and an interview with her over at Wagging Tales.

Also Known As Harper is on shelves now, so go check it out!