As a school librarian, I can’t read every book in my collection. So usually I rely on reviews – written by people much cooler than me – about the books I want to add to my collection. Sometimes I have to read the reviews to decide whether or not the book would appeal to the student body I serve, and sometimes I’m looking for clues as to whether or not the content of the book is appropriate for middle grade students.
Recently the ALA released its list of award winners for 2011, and many of the winners are books that, after reading the reviews, I’m still unsure as to their appropriateness. So when this happens, I simply read the book. So far, I’ve read two of these ‘cusp’ books. One shall remain unnamed because it was not middle school appropriate, and to be honest, I don’t see why it won any awards. The other was Five Flavors of Dumb. What a great book! I’m pretty new to the library profession, so I might be wrong here, but I don’t hear about books written for teens about other teens with special needs. Five Flavors does, and in its own way it reaches out to every teen – “special” or “normal”. The main character, Piper is moderately severely deaf (a distinction I didn’t know existed) and she survives in the hearing world by reading lips and generally blending into the background. When an early morning prank lands her a job as a band manager, she is given the opportunity to disprove all kinds of stereotypes about the hearing impaired and she also learns that stereotypes don’t just apply to the deaf.
What makes the books so great is not necessarily Piper’s journey, but everyone’s journey. John does an amazing job of creating a cast of characters that allows every reader to feel included. Everyone feels left or invisible at some point, and within the five “flavors” of dumb (which ends up being about ten flavors by the end of the book) every label you find in mainstream schools is represented and dissected to show that regardless of your label, life is hard. Everyone in this book is portrayed on both a superficial level and a deeper level. Whenever I read books for my collection, I try to think of kids at my school who might be interested in reading it. I can’t think of a single kid who wouldn’t get something out of it. The length might deter some of my non-book lovers, but if I can get them to start the book, I really think any student who starts reading this book will be drawn in by both the story line and the writing style.