Recommended by: Rita Stein-Grollman, UFT, middle school librarian at I.S. 347 School of Humanities in Brooklyn.
Suitable for: Grades 6-8 and high school reluctant readers
Why I chose this book: I heard the author read selections at the 2011 Brooklyn Book Festival, and I knew it would be great. Justin and Sean, both 12, are best friends, but things are changing. Sean has been closing off, taking what seem like secret trips, and getting into trouble at school. Justin and two other friends, Vanessa and Kyle, try to find out what is going on and to help Sean before it's too late.
What I like best: Maldonado's writing style is smooth, clear, fast-paced and reflective of kids' true speech, without cursing. That did not breach the integrity of the dialogue at all, because the kids' personalities are so well portrayed.
As an educator, I really related to the part when Ms. Feeney, the advisory teacher, brings in Jay, a speaker who is a former gang member. Sean is uncharacteristically rude and interruptive. He instigates a fight with another student, so Feeney has to end the session. If Sean had listened, he might have been helped by hearing Jay's experiences.
How teachers can use this book: This is a great fit for an ELA class or a book club. It is difficult to find a book with such strong characterization and plot that is perfect for this age group. I promoted "Secret Saturdays" to various classes and the copies quickly moved off the shelves. I also worked with an ELA teacher on a book club and we had 10 boys — some of them reluctant readers — who loved the book.
About the author: Torrey Maldonado, UFT, has taught in New York City public schools for nearly 10 years. Before that, he trained teachers and administrators to run conflict resolution programs. Check him out at www.torreymaldonado.com.
"Check it Out" features books recommended to teachers and parents by school librarians. Have a recommendation? School librarians may send suggestions, along with your name and local union, to firstname.lastname@example.org.