“We got a new kid in our room about a week ago,” Roger said. “No one can remember his name, so we just call him by the color of his shirt. On Thursday he was the kid in the green shirt. On Friday he wore a shirt with his name on it, so we called him the kid in the Kenneth shirt.”
Today's post is a little bit different. I'm reviewing this book mainly because it holds a special place in my heart in terms of helping me broaden my reading horizons.
When I was in second grade, we had about 40 minutes in total of free reading time every day. When my teacher noticed I would only read picture books, I was placed in a remedial reading class. I wasn't in that class for very long, because it became apparent that I could read just fine.
So what was the problem? It wasn't that I really had an aversion to chapter books-- the issue was that I didn't like picking up a book that I wouldn't have time to finish. Having to put a story down before the ending really, really bothered me. The worst part in my mind was there was no guarantee another student wouldn't choose the book that I wanted to read the next day, thus further delaying my completion of the story. I had witnessed my classmates squabbling on more than one occasion over the popular books that everyone wanted to read. So, I was content to just read short picture books that I knew I would finish and wouldn't have to fight with anyone over.
One day my teacher suggested that I read The Kid in the Red Jacket by Barbara Park. She said I would probably be able to get through most of the story during class and could take it to recess to finish if I wanted. As it turns out, I could get through the whole thing.
Day after day I would pick up The Kid in the Red Jacket. I remember one of my classmates telling me, "You must really like that book!" As I think about it now, it wasn't that I was super in love with the story (I found it interesting, but not in the same way as other books I would later devour). But I loved the whole experience of reading the book. I still remember that the edition my teacher had had really bright white pages with a slight gloss. I liked the way they looked and felt and smelled. I liked the slight rustle of the pages as I turned them. And, I found I loved reading something on a deeper level than picture books that I could still complete in a school day!
Eventually my teacher said I could bring books from home or library books for reading time if I wanted rather than using the class books. This allowed me to keep a book at my desk and not worry about another student choosing it when I was in the middle of reading it. I became insatiable and would check out several books a week from the library. Our sweet librarian even allowed me to increase my weekly check out limit because I was going through them so quickly. At our school assembly, I was given the "ravenous reader" award. All thanks to an understanding teacher who encouraged me, an enabling librarian, and The Kid in the Red Jacket.
Onto the book itself-- The Kid in the Red Jacket tells the story of Howard, who moved to Massachusetts from Arizona and now struggles with being "the new kid." Looking back on it through an adult lens, I can completely see why it appealed to me as a child. It mentioned Arizona, the state I lived in. As a child I thought that was super cool. The main character, Howard, has a basset hound, which is the same kind of dog my family had when I was growing up. Apart from those things that I specifically related to, I think it's easy for most kids to relate to in general. At some point we all experience that feeling of wanting to fit in. Most children will go through a move at least once in their childhood, and this book can offer some hope and perspective as we see Howard adjust to his new home and neighborhood.
I think The Kid in the Red Jacket is an excellent middle grade book. It is a quick read without being overly simplistic or overly complex. If you have a child who is hesitant to pick up picture books, give them a little nudge in this direction. Maybe it will work the same magic on them as it did on me. I wish Barbara Park was still alive so I could thank her for writing a book that allowed me to dive deeper into the world of reading.