Last month, I followed and participated in the #weneeddiversebooks discussion that was sparked (at least in part) by Walter Dean Myers’s article in the New York Times.
This is a topic close to my heart because I am constantly searching for books that reflect my students’ lives and their experiences. Like all middle school students, they love books that feature “drama.” And I’m sympathetic, because I don’t always enjoy reading books where nothing happens. When you are 12 years old and everything seems extreme, of course you want books where extreme things happen. But, to be honest, it bugs me that the books that feature characters who look like my students will often have plots that feature violence or teen pregnancy. Many of my students live in difficult situations and I want them to see that there are stories about people like them. But that is not all of who they are, and I wish for them to read about other, less charged drama, too. I thought about this a lot this winter when we read The Snowy Day to Atticus and I marveled at how it portrayed a young boy just being a kid. My students deserve to read books about kids being kids. They deserve funny books and science fiction and fantasy. They shouldn’t be relegated to the “urban” section.
That was one reason I enjoyed The Great Greene Heist so much – it was about a diverse group of kids dealing with a rigged election at school without having anything to do with darker kinds of drama. School drama is drama enough sometimes! Especially when you, like Jackson Greene, come from a family of con artists. Echoing Ocean’s 11, Jackson gets his team back together to pull the con to end all cons – re-rigging the election that the principal has already rigged, thanks to a generous donation from a parent.
I think that this is a book that will appeal to a lot of smart middle school students (especially the troublemakers). There were a few parts where it was a little bit challenging to follow until I read the passages with Oceans 11 in mind. It was obviously written with that tone: funny and sharp with great pop culture references. And it features a diverse cast of characters without feeling forced. I hope there are more books featuring Jackson Greene and his friends, because it was a pleasure to read. (And Mike enjoyed it, too!)
I received a copy of this book from NetGalley but I also purchased a copy of my own (from our local independent bookstore).