By: Elizabeth Holmes
Publisher: Carolrhoda Books
Publication Date: August 2012
Reviewed by: Deb Fowler
Review Date: January 2013
Sylvan was going to be in the fifth grade at Henderson Elementary and because of his mom Lila’s activism he had a new nickname. Everyone had seen that corny picture of him in the newspaper with that “dumb grin and a couple of old hippies” behind him. Seemed like every time there was a cause she made him hold a sign. “Tree boy” considered himself perfectly normal, but there were a couple of kids who were ... well, just kind of weird. There was Charity Jensen who “spent almost her whole life in Africa” and then there was Brian Laidlaw, the “Trampoline kid,” who bounced his way through life. Weird. Just plain old weird and not normal.
Mr. Inayatullah, who asked to be called Mr. In, was their teacher. Weird Charity shook his hand when she came into the classroom and stood when called on. She wanted to make friends, but it wasn’t going to be easy. Charity was “homesick for Shibuye,” her school, and her best friend, Grace Mbaya. Her parents had been missionaries, but things changed forever when her dad decided he just had to have a spire on their church. Mr. Kafuna was dead and “if it weren’t for [her] father, he would still be alive.” Charity was way too far away from Kenya in a strange place where they didn’t even pray at school. Heck, her dad wouldn’t even say grace at meals anymore.
Everyone would be working on an “Explore the World” project with another student. As luck would have it, Mr. In paired Sylvan with Brian, who was always “awkward and nervous” and Charity was stuck with Adam, who wouldn’t do a lick of work. Brian was playing math games on the library computer. Such an idiot. Adam was doing nothing. Another idiot. All of a sudden the classroom got lots of attention as the principal and other observers began to come in. Charity overhead them on the playground saying different things like he was “not fully prepared,” he had “limitations,” and it was a “poor environment.” They had to really come together and make sure that even Brian Laidlaw did a good job on the project. Could they do it or was Mr. In going to be fired?
This is a heartwarming story of how Mr. In’s fifth-grade classroom learns that differences are not so bad after all. Sylvan, who has a few quirks of his own, has his own definition of who is normal and who is not. He flat out states that “I really am a normal, average everyday kid,” but thinks that other kids are weird if they aren’t just like him. Many children have difficulty understanding those who are different, including children like Brian Laidlaw who is developmentally disabled and Charity who grew up in another culture. The tale, told from both Sylvan and Charity’s points of view, slowly merges as they begin to understand “differences.” The charming twist at the end is a perfect conclusion to a tale young readers will relate to and enjoy!
Quill says: This amazing, well-written tale is an excellent one that will let kids know that weirdos really aren't that bad after all ... if you get to know them!