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Poetry in Planet Middle School

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TITLE: Planet Middle School

AUTHOR: Nikki Grimes

LENGTH: 160 pages

PUBLISHER: Bloomsbury USA Childrens

SUMMARY: (via amazon.com) For twelve years, Joylin Johnson’s life has been just fine, thank you very much. A game of basketball with the boys-especially her friend Jake-was all it took to put a smile on her face. Baggy jeans, T-shirt, and hair in a ponytail were easy choices. Then suddenly the world seemed to turn upside down, and everything changed at once. Her best girl friend is now flirting with her best guy friend. Her clothes seem all wrong. Jake is acting weird, and basketball isn’t the same. And worst of all, there is this guy, Santiago, who appears from . . . where? What lengths will Joy go to-and whom will she become-to attract his attention?

BRIDGE: Grimes’s book could be used as part of a study on poetry at its most basic but I think it is so much more powerful than that. Grimes has crafted an identity story. As Joy struggles with her love of sports and Jake’s easy friendship, the demons of adolescence sneak in and take hold. This would be a great title to use to introduce the idea of gender in writing. Using Close Reading strategies, students could probe the verse for elements of both male and female in Joy. Joy’s father exhibits some fairly stereotypical “YA book father behaviors” and students could discuss this in relation to Joy’s attitude toward herself and her brother. Either way, it is another opportunity to talk about gender roles and how healthy or harmful those can be.

Teachers could also use this title to discuss voice. Joy is a strong character and while she is struggling with her identity, the strength doesn’t diminish it is just changeable. Joy changes her mind and her clothes and her walk and her personality but she is equally sure each time that THIS is the right choice. It would also be interesting to explore what the story would be like if it weren’t a narrative. Joy’s voice dominates the story but what if the story were told from multiple perspectives. What would Jake sound like? Joy’s father? Her brother? It would be interesting to put students in groups and have them do some exploratory writing.

Ultimately though, this is another spectacular Grimes title and another pleasant addition to a poetry cache.

READERS: Fans of narrative poetry will love Joy’s story but just about every girl who is in the throes of or has suffered her first crush will identify with Joy’s story. This would also be a good title for reluctant readers. The short poems will seem less threatening and it is a quick read which will build confidence.

OTHER TITLES: Readers who enjoy this book might also like The Skin I’m In by Sharon Flake, Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging: The Confessions of Georgia Nicholson by Louise Rennison, or Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper.

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