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BOOK REVIEWS, Contemporary Realistic Fiction, Middle Grade Readers, Read-Aloud Suggestions

GROW: A Novel in Verse by Juanita Havill

Grow is written in free verse and is a quick, easy, beautiful read.  The story centers around 12-year-old Kate who lives in Minneapolis, MN.  She is drawn into helping an out-of-work special ed teacher in the neighborhood–Berneetha–create a community garden.

Berneetha is a large woman who is sometimes made fun of by others in the neighborhood–an occurrence which infuriates Kate.  Berneetha is also remarkable in her warmth and her ability to draw others in the community into the creation of the garden.  She sees potential in everyone–even when Kate thinks she shouldn’t.  That is how Harlan, a wannabe “grafitti gangsta” becomes part of the core group for the project.

Harlan and Kate each struggle with their own issues at home, but are drawn into a tender and meaningful friendship under Berneetha’s guidance.  When the landowner dies and his successor wants to build a parking garage where their garden is beginning to flourish Kate and Harlan are devastated.  Berneetha is mad.  She energizes the others to fight the proposal at City Hall.  With the future of the garden in jeopardy, Kate discovers that things do not always work out the way you would like and solutions come in different ways from unexpected sources.

This is an excellent read-aloud selection for both content and form.  The language flows in an exquisite stream and the story is easily identifiable to readers of all ages.  Uplifting and sprinkled with profound moments of self-discovery, it is also a great independent read selection for middle grade readers.


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