This is a big call but I think Crenshaw will prove to be my book of the year! YES!! I did love it THAT much.
I have long had a love affair with books about imaginary friends. A tiny, old, out print book called O'Diddy has been part of my literature repertoire in our school library for over twenty years.
Of course Crenshaw has a much deeper story - the terrible implications of homelessness on a young child and the desperate need to understand the 'adult' problems of his parents and this why I adore this book. The combination of humour and deep family pain.
The narrative of Crenshaw is not linear. The chapters jump back and forth across time. The story opens with Jackson meeting Crenshaw at the beach. "His coat was black and white, penguin style. He looked like he was heading somewhere fancy in a hairy tuxedo. He also looked awfully familiar." Jackson has a scientific mind. This huge cat on a surf board with an umbrella, that no one else seems to see, cannot be real.
Jackson and and his sister live with their parents and early on we know life is tough. Food is very scarce, it is almost impossible for the family to pay their rent and Jackson's dad has MS. "Sometimes I want to ask my parents if my dad is going to be OK or why we don't always have enough food in the house or why they've been arguing so much."
As first grade ends the family is forced to move into their mini van. His parents explain this will be temporary but they end up living in the van for fourteen weeks.
You might like to read an extract from Chapter five. Here is a Q&A with Katherine Applegate author of another brilliant book The One and Only Ivan.
If you enjoy Crenshaw (wait a minute you will enjoy Crenshaw) the next book to look for is Hold Fast by Blue Balliett followed by How to Steal a dog. You might also enjoy The Imaginary by AF Harrold but be warned this one is not suitable for young readers. Read this review in Horn Book if you still need convincing that Crenshaw is fabulous.
Another book which would link very well with a study of Crenshaw is Farm Kid by Sherryl Clark - especially her poem about the clearing sale. Jackson explains this experience is such a poignant way. "It's like walking around with your clothes on inside out. Underwear on top of jeans, socks on top of sneakers."
Here is an extract from Farm Kid and the poem Clearing Sale
someone else’s life
who could sleep in a bed
that hard? …
what would people think
of our lives
across the grass?"
There are some really innovative teaching ideas here. You might also like to look at the teaching notes provided by the US publisher.
I do enjoy books that cross reference other books. Jackson loves the book A hole is to Dig by Maurice Sendak and his sister Robin constantly requests re-readings of The House on East 88th Street. Sadly we don't have either of these books in our school library but we do have a copy of Lyle at the office which is one of the sequels to The house on East 88th Street.