Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Planet Middle School

Planet Middle School by Nikki Grimes. Grades 4-7. Bloomsbury, September 2011. 154 pages. Review copy provided by my local library.

When Joylin starts middle school, things begin to change. Her body's changing (making playing basketball with the boys sort of awkward). She's suddenly sitting with different girls in the cafeteria (since her best girl friend joined choir). And worst of all, she finds herself obsessed with catching Santiago's eye (a boy she'd never noticed previously), even if it means squeezing her feet into heels, getting her ears pierced, and experimenting with makeup. Life seems to be wobbling out of orbit for this tomboy, but Joylin's doing her best to navigate Planet Middle School.

In short prose poems, Nikki Grimes tells the story of an infinitely relatable girl facing problems that many of our tween readers are facing. This verse novel may not be breaking new ground, but I appreciate a coming-of-age story written by an author of color, featuring a protagonist of color, and I definitely have some kids in mind who will snatch up this book.

The verse format is another appeal factor for kids. This is a slim book anyway, and the verse format makes the pages fly by. The poems are well-constructed and Ms. Grimes is able to paint pictures that get her point across without wasting a word. Girls will see themselves in these poems. Here's one example:

Silent Shift

On the way out, 
I pass by KeeLee
laughing with her new friends
from show choir.
We smile and wave
at each other
like our not sitting together
is no big deal. (pg. 49)

I absolutely think you could lift this poem right out of the book and still get a complete picture of what's going on between Joylin and KeeLee. This is the case for many of the poems in the book, which (to my mind) is the mark of a nicely written verse novel.

Hand this to tweens who are unsure about starting middle school, girls who are noticing boys for the first time, or fans of Confetti Girl by Diana Lopez, Shug by Jenny Han, or Judy Blume's coming-of-age books.

Planet Middle School is on shelves now.