My wife teaches 4th grade, and she often complains that some of my favorite books to read aloud to my 5th graders go over the head of her 4th graders. It is only one grade level, but in our experience it would seem that the maturity difference between 4th and 5th graders in general, is surprisingly significant. Often she resorts to reading THERE'S A BOY IN THE GIRL'S BATHROOM, or SIDEWAYS STORIES FROM WAYSIDE SCHOOL. While these stories are good in their own right (and entertaining), she often wants to challenge her readers and struggles finding good books written for children in this age range.
Enter WHAT HAPPENED ON FOX STREET. Aimed squarely at the 3rd-4th grade crowd, here's a book that could have wide appeal, while showing kids of that age what great writing looks like!
Mo Wren loves her house on Fox Street. The street itself may be in need of a makeover, but it's her street. It's where the memories of her dead mother reside. She wouldn't leave her house for all the money in the world. That's not to say her father wouldn't though. Her father works for the water department and dreams of owning a family-friendly sports bar and grill. And when a shady developer comes along looking to buy up the properties on this dead-end street, Mo panics. With the help of her best-friend Mercedes, who has moved away but still spends each summer with her grandmother on Fox Street, Mo decides that she won't go down without a fight.
This book just feels so authentic. Mo is a character many kids could relate to. Her single dad works too hard. Her "Wild Child" sister is a pain in the neck. And Mo herself is incredibly selfish. It's easy to picture her, in the flesh. To fight for her. To be angry at her. The growing-up she is forced to do, especially when the reader begins noticing that her friendship with Mercedes is changing, is a powerful theme many kids will find meaning in. Author Tricia Springstubb handles it beautifully. In addition, the dialogue, the phrasing of sentences, and the figurative language used are all so unique and original, the book could prompt some great discussions on the craft of writing.
The relationship between Mo and her father was a high point for me. Mo's dad is blue collar. He drinks beer. He plays softball. He gives his daughter leeway that many parents may scoff at. But as I said before, it feels so authentic. He doesn't go to work in a suit and tie. He doesn't drive a nice car. He doesn't read the newspaper in the morning. He and Mo are very real with each other. His love for her is genuine and felt on nearly every page. With his wife's passing, Mo is his girl now. I loved how their relationship grew throughout the story and I thought the resolution to their conflict was great.
Good books, aimed at this age range, are hard to come by. Thankfully authors like Tricia Springstubb are stepping up and trying to fill the void.
Final Grade: B+