I have just finished "Word Nerd" by Susin Nielsen which is one of this year's Red Maple books and I am very happy that I choose to read this book for this year's Red Maple program.
For those of you who don't know, Red Maple is a reading program for Grade 7 and 8 students to promote the reading of Canadian authors or landed immigrants. It is run by the Ontario Library Association. More information can be found here. When the students have read the minimum number of books they have the opportunity to vote with the others students in the program and choose which book(s) should win the Red Maple Awards. Each year the librarian at my school runs the program for our Grade 7 and 8 students, as well as the Silver Birch program for our Grade 6 students (also run by the Ontario Library Association). She asks for teacher readers to read through the books each year and meet with the student participants to discuss the books and ensure they have an understanding of what they are reading.
I have volunteered for the past 4 years and really enjoy the books and discussing them with the students. The first one I have read this year is "Word Nerd" by Susin Nielsen. It is a fantastic story of a 12 year-old boy who doesn't fit in anywhere, has an over-protective mother and is poor. This is a deadly combination for a teen trying to make friends in middle school. He is subject to bullying and excluded by almost everyone. When a deadly incident takes place at lunch, a peanut is slipped into his sandwich and he has a peanut allergy, his mother pulls him from regular school and he begins correspondence school at home. Ambrose, the protagonist, is a fantastic narrator and I believe that this book shows how many teens actually feel and the real things they think about. This might be what has lead to parents attempting to ban this book over the use of objectionable language. The author has included words like boner, boobs, etc. If any parents walked through the hallways while the students are at their lockers they would know that these words are the least of what teenagers are saying!!!
The book is a wonderfully realistic portrayal of a teenager trying to survive growing up, an over-protective mother and the incredibly difficult process of "being cool". I think this is a must read for every teenager, especially the "cool" ones. An inside look at the life of those who are bullied but have the courage to still be themselves.