A gentle, observant boy with special needs records his ups and downs at his new school in this lively, journal-style children’s book.
How does a kid fit in when he leaves his special education school behind to attend a general education school? That’s the dilemma faced by a boy named Gerald, who writes down his feelings and observations as he makes his way through his first uncertain, friendless days: “When I am writing, I can take my time and say things just right,” he says. He experiences loneliness, and for a time, a bully calls him “dummy” and “retard” and plays mean tricks on him. But readers shouldn’t expect pathos (or bathos) here. McElhinny (Storm, 2002) has created a thoughtful, funny character who’s rooted in the love and support of his family and is naturally considerate of others. He does his best to make sense of his new circumstances even though he misses his old school, where “Everybody always wanted to play with me.” McElhinny doesn’t specify what exactly makes Gerald “different,” but the text reveals that he’s pulled out of class for speech therapy, reading, and gym time with other special needs kids. (He also loves pizza, movies, Frisbee, superheroes, playing the saxophone, and fishing with his grandpa.) In the end, due to his own good nature and a few fortuitous occurrences, he wins friends who appreciate him for who he is. The author gives Gerald a genuine-feeling narrative voice, which is further enhanced by the book’s black-and-white journal design that features kidlike printing with misspelled, crossed-out words, as well as stick figure drawings, on ruled paper. A deep understanding clearly informs this story, and this is underscored by McElhinny’s dedication of the book to his own son, who he says “makes this world a better place just by being himself.”
A notably perceptive chapter book that invites empathy and understanding through the words of its engaging young narrator.