Emma Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree

This story begins Emma Jean Lazarus opens a door.  Literally, it’s the door to the girls’ bathroom at school, where she finds Colleen Pomerantz (a kind, sensitive girl and not one of the usual 7th grade criers) sobbing over a problem with a friend.  Figuratively, it’s the door we all open when we make the sometimes scary decision to reach out to another human being.  This is a big deal for all of us, but especially for Emma Jean, who’s one of those brilliant, wise-beyond-her-years kids who seems to watch everything from the sidelines.  She reminds me a lot of Lisa Yee’s Millicent Min, Girl Genius.  Because Emma Jean is brilliant at math and logic, just like her father who died two years ago, she uses logic to find solutions to her classmates’ problems, with results that are hilarious and heartwarming.

There’s a lot to love about this book.  If you’re a writer, you should read it because it’s a fantastic example of how to pull off changing points of view in third person narrative.  If you spend any time in a middle school, you’ll love it because the characters are so real.  As a middle school English teacher, I recognized these kids.  I’ve seen Emma Jean watching the other kids at lunch.   I’ve comforted Colleen when one of her friends was mad at her.  And I’ve seen them all in their specially picked outfits at that first middle school dance.  Author Lauren Tarshis has nailed middle school to a tee; she even understands one of the great secrets of school hallways: that the custodians are the real heroes.

Emma Jean Lazarus goes out on a limb in this middle grade novel (and yes, she really does fall out of a tree).  Her journey is one that manages to be funny and sad and uplifting and true, all at once.  You’ll love this book.

“…all these books that were for me…”

If you write for young people, consider this LJ post a big, fat thank you note (virtual chocolates and ice cream, too). I just finished reading my 7th graders’ final exams. I ask them to write an essay reflecting on how they’ve grown as readers, writers, and human beings this year. Here’s a quote from K…

“In the beginning of the year, I didn’t like to read at all. But then my teacher showed me all these books that were for me, and I couldn’t stop reading.”

Books that were for her.  Written just for her.  Or at least it felt that way.  She went on to talk about Sonya Sones, Sarah Dessen, Deb Caletti, and Nancy Werlin — voices that spoke to her over the past ten months. 

And K wasn’t the only one who named names as she reflected on books that made a difference this year.  My kids talked about finding themselves in the characters of Pete Hautman, Janet Tashjian, Jack Gantos, Laurie Halse Anderson, Lisa Yee, Sharon Creech, Jerry Spinelli, Wendelin Van Draanen, David Lubar, Cynthia Kadohata, Mal Peet, and Walter Dean Myers.  They wrote about being challenged by M.T. Anderson, Richard Preston, and Markus Zusak.  They wrote fondly about escaping into the worlds of Margaret Peterson Haddix, Christopher Paolini, and JK Rowling.  And they reflected on walking a mile in someone else’s shoes as they read Gene Luen Yang, Cynthia Lord, Will Hobbs, Jennifer Roy, and Joseph Bruchac.

I write for kids.  I know that some days, it feels like you’re alone with your computer, and even your computer doesn’t  like you very much. So I thought I’d share K’s reflection on her year of reading.  We all need to realize when we write, we’re writing for someone important.  Someone like K, who’s waiting for a book that’s just for her, just for him.  

If you write for kids, that’s the work you’re doing every day.  You may never get to read the end-of-the-year essays, but you should know that you make a difference, and you’re appreciated.