SPARKS by Graham McNamee


Last year Todd was the smartest kid in Special Needs; this year, he was promoted to the regular fifth-grade class, where they call him “Retardo” and “Braindead.” He’s really trying to keep up, but he’s in danger of being sent back to Needs. Then a history project about the pygmy Ota Benga inspires Todd to use his secret strength–imagination.

Being promoted also meant Todd had to leave his pals behind in Special Needs, even his best friend, Eva. Why can’t Eva understand that they can’t be friends anymore? Why can’t he stop missing her? What’s the right answer to that?

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From Publishers Weekly

Ten-year-old Todd Foster narrates McNamee’s (Hate You) poignant, convincing novel about a boy who has been promoted from a special-needs fourth-grade class, where he knew all the answers, to “the real fifth-grade.” Here he faces some daunting challenges: he is afraid that he will flunk the “trial period” and be sent back to “Needs”; he must deflect the cruel taunts of his classmates (who call him “Mr. Retardo” and “Brain-Dead”); and he sorely misses his best friend, Eva, with whom he is afraid to be seen. Todd’s earnest narrative reveals his heartrending determination to make the grade academically, his torn feelings about leaving Eva behind and his fragile self-esteem; his sense of humor belies his inherent intelligence (“Math hour goes on forever, like it’s multiplying itself. I wish it would divide itself so it would be over already”). Scenes of Todd’s family around the breakfast table or in front of the television balance tension with the laughter that cuts through it. In the end, Todd triumphs on several fronts, including academically and personally, but it’s his journey to get there that readers will most enjoy. Ages 8-12. (Aug.)
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From School Library Journal

Grade 4-6-Todd Foster, aka Gump, Mr. Retardo, Basket Case, and the Drooling Idiot, was in a special-needs class where he was the smartest kid in the room, but now he is back in a regular fifth-grade program and trying to succeed. But he just cannot seem to catch a break, to “grow a brain.” His sister taunts him, his classmates tease him, and his teacher is doubtful of his staying power. Todd is overwhelmed by the constant assault of jeers and bad grades, and his parents appear to be oblivious to his struggle. The only person on his side is Eva, a former special-needs classmate. She is a happy, giving soul who likes Todd as he is, yet he shuns her for fear of further ridicule from others. Things pick up for him with an assignment on the life and times of Ota Benga, a Pygmy tribesman who was on display at the Bronx Zoo in 1906. Todd ultimately succeeds by using his imagination and applying himself to the task at hand. While on this high, he reclaims Eva as his friend and surmounts the insults. McNamee crafts a warm and humorous story about a boy’s struggle to overcome his learning difficulties and his own self-doubt. A solid choice for any reader, but especially reluctant ones.
Alison Grant, West Bloomfield Township Public Library, MI
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


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