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Friday, December 7, 2012

Yolanda's Genius -- good for music teachers, Special Ed teachers, and language arts teachers (Also for people who like Chicago, the Blues, and good stories).

     A while ago at a thrift store I picked up Yolanda's Genius by Carol Fenner.  It was a Newbery Honor book in 1995 and I had never heard of it before.  Turns out it is wonderfully quirky book, suitable for middle school or high school students.
     The story, in brief, is this.  Yolanda and her little brother, Andrew are two African-American kids living with their mom in Chicago (where Mama works as a paralegal.)  They live in a decent, but not perfect neighborhood.  Yolanda has friends there and is happy.  She looks after Andrew who struggles in school but is an amazing harmonica player (their father gave Andrew a harmonica shortly before he passed away.) 
     Then one day Andrew comes home from school with a little baggy of white powder that some older kids in school told him would help him feel good.  He offers it to his mama when she comes home with a headache and she is horrified and decides on the spot that they are leaving Chicago.  Mama gets a job in Grand River, Michagan (which seems to be psuedonym for my native Grand Rapids).  Yolanda hates leaving Chicago and is not looking forward to the move.
     In Grand River, Yolanda finds a new friend, Andrew's harmonica gets smashed by some older kids, and Yolanda comes up with a crazy plan to buy Andrew a new Harmonica, return to Chicago, and help everyone to see that even though Andrew cannot read or do well in school, he is, nonetheless a genius.

     The ending is perhaps a bit improbable -- but fun all the same. 
     This is the sort of book that could help a reader learn to love music, a music kid learn to love reading, and anybody who reads it to understand that differences are not always disabilities.  Having said that, though it is a good read, it will probably not become your favorite book in the whole world.  Still. worth checking out.

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