Crenshaw is highly recommended for a mature child who is able to understand and process the reality of living in constant fear of losing your home, school, and friends. Its spare language makes it perfect for reluctant readers who might be interested in exploring social issues. The details are so vivid that it frequently reads like an interview with an actual child who has experienced homelessness. So when Jackson explains that his invented game Cerealball is a “good trick for when you’re hungry and there’s nothing much to eat till morning,” it’s almost too heartbreaking to enjoy the humor. This is a book that is perfect for a parent to read with their child so that these difficult passages can be discussed together.
The threat of homelessness is an issue that many families face every day here in Houston and across our state and country. But it is rare to find this issue in a book intended for elementary age children and even more rare to find it as beautifully and sensitively explored as it is in “Crenshaw.”
Written by Katherine Applegate, the author of Newbery medal winner “The One and Only Ivan,” “Crenshaw” tells the story of ten year old Jackson, his five year old sister Robin, and his musician parents. Actually, Jackson tells his own story, and it is a difficult one at that
We find out early in the book that his family previously lost their home the summer after Jackson completed first grade. It happened through no fault of their own--the dad’s medical condition combined with two job layoffs was all it took to put this family not on the street but into their minivan.
Luckily for Jackson, he found comfort in an imaginary friend named Crenshaw. Crenshaw was a big cat, not too friendly, not too talkative, but there when needed. He stayed with Jackson until the family got settled in a new apartment and school. When Jackson made a new friend named Marisol, Crenshaw disappeared because he wasn’t needed anymore.
Now that homelessness is once again a possibility, Crenshaw reappears. He’s much bigger and seems intent on freaking out Jackson by constantly threatening to reveal himself to others.
What Crenshaw teaches Jackson, who ultimately teaches his parents, is that honest and open communication is critical to the development of strong and healthy family relationships. We must speak and hear the truth to and with our children whether the issue is something as serious as threatened homelessness or as simple as having over-scheduled lives.