Saturday, July 25, 2015

Zack Delacruz: Me and My Big Mouth by Jeff Anderson

I purchase a lot of professional books, a ridiculous amount really. But several never get read, I just keep planning on reading them, but I never do. My books by Jeff Anderson are the exception to that rule. I first met Jeff through Everyday Editing, then Mechanically Inclined10 Things Every Writer Needs to Know, and finally Revision Decisions. I love Jeff's writing. He is engaging, hilarious, and teaches me more about grammar than I ever thought I would want to know. More than that, I've got to know Jeff as a person, and he is amazing. So when I heard that he was going to venture into the world of children's literature, I was intrigued. 

Jeff was a teacher for over twenty years, teaching in 4th-8th.  He knows kids. I love when former teachers write for children. The characters and their dialogue are usually spot on. They know this age group, inside and out. This holds true in Jeff's new book, Zack Delacruz.

I understood Jeff's character of Zack. Zack just wants to be in the background. To blend in, fit in with friends, and have everything go well. He is quiet, struggling a bit as he moves through sixth grade. Some kids in his class aren't making it easy, neither is moving between his mom and dad's house after their recent divorce. Life is not a piece of cake for Zack, which many of my students will identify with. And then, there is the incident in the library.

In library class one day their teacher is called away for a phone call. The lack of teacher can make some kids quiet, others funny, and some mean. Unfortunately for Zack, the lack of teacher causes one classmate - Jose - to pick on another classmate - Janie. And before Zack knows, or understands, what he is doing, he stands up for Janie and becomes Jose's next target. 

This moment of bravery from Zack leads to him being put in charge of a school fundraiser with Jose. (!!!) And this fundraiser is a big deal - it is the only way the sixth grade class can be a part of the school dance. You follow Zack as he struggles with his desire to step back when thrust into the spotlight and watch as the story unfolds and he finds his own path. 

I loved so many things about this book. I loved that it was about kids that seemed so real. That it tackled the issue of bullying without being a issue book. And that it was about a diverse group of kids, but that wasn't the focus either, they were just kids. 

My students, though, loved the book because they found it funny. It helped that it was not a million pages. That led to it being passed hand to hand around our class - and it still is! Some boys took my copy of the ARC home from the summer and are returning it once the entire group reads it. That speaks volumes. And they were grateful to hear that Jeff is working on the next story with Zack right now. They aren't ready to say goodbye to Zack, or his friends, just yet. 

I think Zack Delaruz: Me and My Big Mouth is the perfect book for your middle grade classroom. Check it out when it is released on August 4th and you will grow to love Zack and his friends too.