November 16, 2011
The Absolute Value of Mike by Kathryn Erskine
Mike isn’t sure what the summer will bring but there are certain things he counted on and chief among them is being home where he can practice for the basketball tryouts.
But his father has other plans and these plans include teaching in Romania of all places. Instead of taking Mike along, he ships Mike off to an unknown Great-Aunt and Great-Uncle.
Mike has no idea how his father is going to get along without him. He’s an absolute genius in math but can’t do anything practical like pay the bills or get a meal together. In spite of his own shortcomings, he’s got a challenge all set up for Mike. He expects Mike to spend the summer completing an Engineering project with this mysterious uncle. Something about an Artesian Screw, whatever that is.
But when Mike shows up, Poppy is just sitting in a chair in front of a blank tv screen. Is the guy even alive? How are they going to get this screw thing built if Poppy never even moves?
Great Aunt Moo isn’t much better. People run and hide when they see her drive past — yes, her driving really is that bad. She can’t seem to see really well but any question sets her off.
Mike soon finds himself with more hapless adults to manage all the while wondering why no one is taking care of him. Isn’t he the kid here?
Erskine has crafted a story about a boy who has spent so long fighting what he isn’t (a math genius just like dad) that he isn’t sure what he is (a genius at managing people). But when the a friend’s plan to adopt a Romanian orphan seem to be falling through, its Mike who gets everyone together to make sure that this one poor kid has someone to take care of him.
Not as action packed as many boy books, Erskine has still crafted a main character who is a tried-and-true problem solver. He may not be alien invaders or evil wizards, but he is battling a world of adult sized problems to save another boy’s hopes for a family.
With themes of family, responsibility and value this one will give teachers and students plenty to discuss and kids something to think about long after the last page has been read.