Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff – Review by Katherine Sokolowksi
Last year in about mid-September, I turned to a colleague and said, “If I say I’m reading another chapter book at the start of the year to all of my reading classes, please shout at me.” Don’t get me wrong, I believe in the power of the read aloud, and so do the teachers on my team. When we began switching for classes at the fifth grade level, that was one of the stipulations – homeroom teachers would still do read aloud with their own class. In reading class, I read picture books, a chapter from a text, articles, etc. But reading aloud a novel takes up so much time in our short class that I confine it to my homeroom and let the other homeroom teachers do the same.
So, last year upon finishing a novel at the start of the school year I swore to my friend, never again…until I read a book a few weeks ago and had to break that promise. I think if you’ve read Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff, you would understand why.
My friends had all been talking about this book for weeks, months even. They had seen the Advanced Readers Copies and knew it was a book that members of the Nerdy Book Club would talk about and love. They were absolutely right. It was about thirty pages in when I texted my friend and colleague, Mindy, and told her I was breaking my “no chapter book read aloud” rule in reading classes and she wasn’t aloud to shout at me after all.
In the first thirty pages I went through the stages of:
- This is a beautiful book.
- Oh, Albie, I wish I were your teacher.
- Yep, need to read this to my homeroom at the start of the year.
- Hmm, should I read it to all three classes?
- No, I’ll have Tim and Angie read it to their classes.
- But, but, but….
- I want to discuss this in reading class.
- Yes, I need to discuss this in reading class.
- So many ties to Wonder, Each Kindness.
- I have so many “Albies” in my class.
- I’m reading this to my three classes.
What could this book possibly be about that would make me break my rule? It’s about being average. You have known many “Albies” in your life. I have many in my classroom each year. School is hard for Albie. He tries, and tries, but nothing comes easy. Not reading, not writing, not math. He’s not an artist, not a jock, he’s just Albie. He’s good, and kind, and loyal, but he does not stand out. For the most part, he’s ok with that, but his parents aren’t. Albie struggles against their expectations and tries to figure out where he fits in. He is aided by a new babysitter, Calista, who sees Albie for the wonderful person he truly is.
Children need Albie. They need to see the ordinary kid struggle in a book. To see him deal with parent issues, friend issues, school issues, and more. To see that not everything is tied up in the end in a neat little bow. I love, absolutely love, that Albie does not become a superstar in anyway in this book. You end as you begin, Albie is ordinary, and that’s ok. There’s a lot between those covers, though, and you need to read his story yourself. And, once you do, I promise you that you will immediately begin sharing Albie’s story too. We all know Albie, for some of us, we are Albie. Ordinary. That’s not almost something to celebrate; it is absolutely something to celebrate. Thank you, Lisa Graff, for writing a book that makes me rewrite lesson plans for the first month of school. My students will be thanking you too.
Katherine Sokolowski has taught for fifteen years and currently teaches fifth grade in Monticello, Illinois. She is passionate about reading both in her classroom and also with her two sons. You can find her online at http://readwriteandreflect.blogspot.com/ and on Twitter as @katsok.