Young Calvin Vickers must come to terms with an all-too-familiar new neighbor, the biggest bully at Carver Elementary.
Could Harper Hall just be a good kid with a troubled past? Calvin doesn’t want to be anywhere close to find out. “Big for his age” Harper Hall is someone “you don’t cross,” someone “you don’t say no [to] if he asks for one of your three Oreos,” someone who looks like “he just might pound someone into the ground.” How can Calvin focus on the school science fair when his world has just been rendered a shambles? What seems to be an impossible relationship is given hope when Calvin is offered an entry into Harper’s inner life; he learns that Harper’s mother struggles with housing insecurity and finding steady income, forcing Harper into foster care. The irony is that the cigarette-smoking, coldhearted foster grandmother who cares for Harper is not as well-equipped for the job as his troubled but loving mother. The reductive, negative-trope–supporting foster mother makes for a slight disappointment in an early chapter book that otherwise handles complexity with warmth. Harper, Calvin, and Calvin’s pals are depicted as black in Freeman’s soft, black-and-white illustrations, and Carver is a welcoming, multicultural place.
Chronicling the importance of empathy and openness, this fourth in the Carver Chronicles is a pleasing addition to a series in which diverse readers can recognize themselves in starring roles. (Fiction. 6-10)