Monday, October 5, 2015

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate

It started again.  This time Crenshaw was riding a surfboard and wearing a t-shirt that says CATS RULE, DOGS DROOL…But, soon-to-be-in-fifth-grader Jackson is the kind of guy who no longer needs or wants an imaginary cat friend.  OK, it was alright that Crenshaw was there when Jackson needed him back in second grade to help cope with his family's money problems when they were forced to live in their minivan for several months.  But things are different now - Jackson is an aspiring scientist who likes facts, just the facts, please,  So why has Crenshaw returned?

Jackson thought things were OK.  His family has a nice enough apartment in Swanlake Village, a place that isn't fancy but it is comforting in its everydayness.  He even has a best friend, Marisol, he can count on and with whom he has a dog-walking service to make a little extra money, and they are really looking forward to being in the same 5th grade class when school begins again.

But little by little worry is creeping in.  Jackson's dad has had to quit working because of his multiple sclerosis  and his mom is working three part time jobs.  Jackson and his sister Robin, 5, are always hungry and one night, there are overheard whispers of moving if the rent couldn't be paid.  But maybe enough money would be made at the forthcoming yard sale, in which everything is to be sold except a bag of favorite thing each kid is allowed to keep.

Later that night, Jackson finds Crenshaw in the bathroom taking a bubble bath.  Hustling him into his room, Robin hears Jackson and Crenshaw talking and it seems that Aretha, the family's Labrador mutt, actually senses the presence of a cat.

Jackson has a lot on his mind with Crenshaw's return, but now that he is older, all he wants is for his parents to tell him the truth about how things stand, the truth about what is going on and their financial situation.  But first, Jackson has a lesson to learn about truthfulness as well, and Crenshaw is just the right imaginary cat friend to give him the sage advice Jackson needs to hear so badly:  "tell the truth to the person who matters most of all."

Now all Jackson has to do is figure out who that person is.

Katherine Applegate addressed an important problem in her book The One and Only Ivan regarding animal abuse through the life and memories of a captive gorilla living in shopping mall for the amusement and entertainment of shoppers.  In Crenshaw, she addresses the problem of hungry and homeless families head on, and to help readers understand how this happens and that it can happen to anyone, she has brought Jackson's old imaginary friend back to act as a catalyst towards that understanding.  OK, Crenshaw is a plot device, but it works here because Jackson can't be trusted to be entirely truthful - not yet, anyway.

The novel is narrated in the first-person by Jackson, who seems to be a relatively honest, understanding and sensible boy.  He's a very good big brother to little sister Robin, reading her her two favorite books, A Hole is to Dig and The House on East 88th Street, whenever she is feeling insecure and is seeking comfort.  Really, the whole family seem like ordinary, good people who really care about each other.  So how did they end up homeless once, with a second time on the near horizon?  Why don't they get help from family, or food from a food pantry?  "There's everything wrong with asking for help." my dad snapped.  " It means we've failed."

Really? With two hungry kids?

And what Jackson needs to do about this is what's at the heart of this coming-of-age story.

A very useful Teacher's Guide has been made available by the publisher Macmillian

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was an EARC received from NetGalley

Join the Crenshaw Food Drive during the month of October - find out how you can help HERE

Family homelessness is a serious problem in this country, affecting 1.6 million children just like Jackson and Robin.  You can find out more about this at the National Center for Family Homelessness, as well as suggestions if you or someone you know are in need of assistance.


  1. Hello Alex, this sounds like a wonderful book with a very good message at the centre. Thank you so much for sharing this otherwise I might not have heard of it. Barbara

    1. You are most welcome, Barbara, and it's so nice to hear from you today.


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