Five Reasons To Read It #13: THE GREAT GREENE HEIST

I very much enjoyed hearing Varian Johnson speak at LeakyCon, so I went out and bought one of his books – and I loved it.  The newest addition to my classroom library is:

Five Reasons to Read It #13

By Varian Johnson
Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, 2014

Here are five reasons to read it:

  1. Check out this cast. 
    Jacket art by Kali Ciesmier
    Jacket design by Nina Goffi

    The jacket alone sold me, because where I teach, this is what a classroom actually looks like. I’m on a mission this year to make my classroom library more truly diverse than ever, and part of what that means to me is that I want lots of books with protagonists of color that don’t exist solely to examine racial issues. Yes, books that deeply examine particular cultural experiences or mores and/or the realities of racism are critical. But my black, Mexican, Samoan, and Vietnamese kids (to name just a few) aren’t experiencing their early teens solely in terms of race, just like my white kids aren’t. They’re all just kids doing kid stuff, and they deserve to see that reflected in the books on my shelves. (There are brief moments that glance at discrimination, and they’re handled with appropriate snark – I very much enjoyed that the protagonist used the administrative assistant’s racist attitude to his advantage.)

  2. Jackson Greene is instantly likable.  He jumps off the page.  His trademark red tie and No. 2 pencil, his casual confidence with peers and authority figures alike, and his infamous talent for pranks and capers make him a character I would have had a huge fictional crush on, in middle school. Plus, he likes a girl in glasses who can beat him at basketball.
  3. Gaby de la Cruz is another instant charmer.  Her hoop skills, impossible but undeniable crush on Jackson (and his on her), combined with her self-possessed savvy as she navigates the shark-infested waters of the race for Student Council President make her the girl I wish I could have been in middle school.  
  4. It’s a caper.  A caper!  Who doesn’t love a good caper?  It moves fast, rotating swiftly among POVs and locations.  There are unbreakable locks and souped-up cell phones, code names and laptops and hiding in the custodial closet. 
  5. The whole heist squad was delightful – great banter, excellent real-kid dialogue, and some true belly laughs.  The story would make a great ensemble flick, I think – the middle-grade Ocean’s Eleven. Dang, now I really want to see it.  
Overall, this book is great fun, and I anticipate that it will never sit on the shelf for long.  It’ll be in constant rotation once the kids start recommending it to each other, because it’s a high-interest story that will be enjoyed by voracious and reluctant readers alike. Middle-school teachers, this is one to have handy!

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