In her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne Lamott says, “For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.”

My hope is that this is what books become to you—as important as almost anything else on earth. This blog is about helping you find the miracle in these small, flat, rigid squares of paper while you are in middle school and beyond. Once you read alongside me, you are forever a member of my tribe of readers. No matter how you old you are, when you need to be reminded of the power of a good story, you will find me here, waiting to place one in your hands.

Saturday, January 21, 2012


I had seen this book all over the place since I attended the NCTE convention in November.  Every time I see it, I am drawn to the cover.  The cover claims that Playground is “The Mostly True Story of a Former Bully.”  However, I was hesitant to buy it because I had little faith that it was quality literature. 

Sure, it might be appealing enough for some of you to pick it up and read, but was the story really going to be the kind of message I wanted my students to read?  Was it really based on 50 Cent’s experience?  Would it really send a message about the negative effects of bullying? 

Then I came across Crazy Quilt Edi’s book review of the book.  She said after reading she wondered, “Did 50 Cent really write this on his own?”  That was all I needed to know.  Her question told me it must be better than I thought it would be.  And it was.

Aside from the gratuitous use of mild swear words and some minor, but noticeable editing failures (i.e. the word “think” instead of “thing”), Playground is a powerful, well-crafted coming-of-age story with surprising depth. 

Butterball is a complex teenager who plays the roles of both victim and bully in this story.  His relationship with each of his separated parents is complicated.  When he finds himself in required counseling sessions after attacking a classmate with a battery-filled sock, Butterball is determined to do anything but open up to his counselor. 

The story unfolds through counseling sessions where the reader is privy to both what is said during the session as well as what Butterball refuses to say (through flashbacks prompted by the counseling sessions).  The current events in his life play out between sessions, forming a complete picture of the past that shaped Butterball’s life up to now, the present in which he struggles to figure out who he wants to be, and the future he decides to create for himself. 

Each page reveals an unexpected, but realistic aspect of Butterball’s story.  His feelings are universal.  I suspect that every one of you who reads Playground will find a piece of yourselves within the pages. 


  1. Hmmm, sounds like I will add it to my list!
    This is my exciting news--one of our administrators to me they had another $500 to spend on books for at risk students. The people teaching the at risk reading class that I taught last year (and ordered awesome books for) didn't give her a list of books when she asked for one. I said, "Let me order for my classroom. Those kids come to me anyway." She told me to go for it!!!!!! I am making my list--and the first place I went to was THIS BLOG! You have been giving me great ideas! I'll let you know what else I pick out.

  2. I'm glad to see your recommendations, Christy. You're choosing books I haven't heard of, so I'll pass these on to our librarian, too. Thanks. This book looks good.

  3. I didn't think the language in this was right for middle school and sent the ARC to the high school. There's a lot of urban lit out there that is much better done.

  4. Gotta pick this one up. Great review and I love the cover illustration!

  5. Thanks for the review - I have seen this, and know it will be popular because, it's 50 Cent, but didn't know what to expect.