Friday, November 27, 2009

Book Review: Road to Paris (YA)

While searching for books for our next Literature Circle class, I found this one by Nikki Grimes on the Coretta Scott King Book Awards list. Paris and her brother, Malcolm, have been in one foster home after another for most of their lives. When they are unexpectedly split up and sent to different homes, Paris is devastated. But while she aches for her brother, Paris finds comfort in her new foster home, in spite of the racism in the nearly all-white neighborhood.

Books about foster care can be risky for young readers. As readers, we expect "abuse" to be paired with "foster care," although this is an unfortunate reaction on our part. I'm sure we all understand that there are a multitude of excellent, nurturing foster families who strive to make a good home for kids; however, literature's portrayal (particularly in the memoir genre) of foster care is often harsh and cruel.

So, I was a bit skeptical that a book about a girl's escape from an abusive foster home would be acceptable (G-rated) reading material for 5th-8th graders. In The Road to Paris, however, Nikki Grimes manages to deal with a whole lot of hard issues in a quiet, matter-of-fact way. Yes, Paris's mother is an alcoholic who chooses men over her children, and the grandmother isn't a kindly old lady who will do anything for her grandkids; but neither are demonized. Grimes doesn't dwell on the abusive foster home from which Paris and Malcolm flee. Instead, she focuses on Paris's new life and her struggle to figure out where she, as a foster child and a biracial girl, really belongs.

Highly recommended for ages 10 and up.

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