Friday, October 29, 2010

What Momma Left Me - Renee Watson

What Momma Left Me by Renee Watson
I loved Watson's picture book debut A Place Where Hurricanes Happen, which was released at the end of June, a few weeks before What Momma Left Me. Though I just now got around to reading Watson's middle grade novel debut. I didn't think I would like What Momma Left Me so I didn't seek it out. Thanks to the book description, I thought the story would be heavy on the lessons, the cover and main characters name Serenity, reinforced this idea.

When I finally picked up What Momma Left Me, I quickly realized how wrong I was. I really really enjoyed this story and loved Serenity's voice. Thirteen year old Serenity and her younger brother 12 yr old Danny move in with their grandparents after their mother is dies. The two are trying to find a new home with their grandparents.

To cope with her loss Serenity writes in a journal. At Serenity's new school, her English class will be studying poetry. The students are required to write a poem in whatever style they learned that week on Friday.

Serenity Evans
Mrs. Ross, 1 st Period
Poetry Workshop

List Poem: a form of free verse poetry. Write a list poem about ten things you know

10 things I know
Even Jesus wept
Everything tastes better when it's homemade
Passing notes in class will get you in trouble
Nobody likes to be made fun of
True friends come back to you
Saying "I'm sorry" is never easy
A touch from a boy can set your soul on fire
People who pass away
visit you in your dreams
Sometimes doing the wrong thing
is the only way people know how to survive
death is a sneaky thief,
stealing life when you don't expect it.

Each chapter begins with one of Serenity's poems in its own font. The poems were a wonderful surprise and another way to feel connected to Serenity.

Serenity's grandfather is a pastor and she finds herself going to church more than she ever did before. Serenity makes a new friend at Sunday school, Maria. Watson's seamlessly blends faith into the story. Serenity and Maria gossip, talk about boys and go to church on Sundays. Some young readers will be able to relate to their not so perfect behavior at times, talking a little to loud and passing notes in the pew.

Serenity has a crush on a boy names Jay, even though she knows he's trouble.

"Jay gets up and sits at the table. Mr. Nelson takes his math book and opens it to page twenty-five. "Let's start the year off right, " Mr. Nelson says. When Mr. Nelson turns his back to write on the board, Jay closes his book. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a stack of bills. He counts them. The green is moving so fast in his hands, I can't keep up with how much money he has. He must feel me staring at him because he looks across the aisle at me. I try to play it off, like I wasn't just looking at him, like I don't see all that green in his hands. Our eyes meet. I get hot all over and look away. "

Serenity is very vulnerable and here is this attractive badboy ready to sweet talk her. I really enjoyed watching this storyline play out. Waston doesn't ignore Danny, he's also going through it and getting caught up with a bad crowd.
Serenity's father killed her mother. The author doesn't say that Serenity's mother's was murdered or who was responsible until about midway in. This slow reveal worked very well. The information was held back not to tease the reader but because Serenity isn't ready to share or think about what happened to her mother. The first person Serenity tells is Maria. Serenity's mother loved to cook as does her grandmother. Cooking runs in the family. Serenity has fond memories of helping her mother in the kitchen. What Momma Left Me is well layered and very good. Watson is offically on my read it as soon as it comes out author list. ages 10 up

teacher's guide - I thought this looked very good, so I decided to link to it.

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