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July in August by Maryjo Paradis-Smith (Review)

We live in a world where kids are increasingly aware their world is damaged and that even the best of adults need help sometimes. Helping them thrive in the face of all this is what good teachers, good parents, and good writers do. Maryjo Paradis-Smith fits all bills and this book is her first gem.

Maryjo is witty and wise. Her kind and crazy sense of humor could help us all survive the madness that must be so daunting to young readers just coming into awareness of how our world is real and mad, open to them and closed, and mad and real. Avid readers in their early to mid-teens will find a lifeline in this book. And this is just the type of book to spark the transformation of a reluctant reader into a voracious one.

Maryjo is a teacher, the kind who creates vibrant learning environments for middle school kids deemed difficult to teach but who don’t merit whatever is special about Special Ed. The kind of teacher who is not a baby-sitter, a panderer, an enabler, or a time server. In her classes young people do math. They also read and wrote. (She just retired this year, her last few months scrambling to translate her styles, her techniques, her enthusiasm, and her determination across the Zoom screens). They read whole books, including this one, and they were there for the writing of this book. They were her first sounding board, her harshest and most supportive critics. And, of course, more than one of them has already been inspired by this collaborationist learning experience to begin writing their own books.

Every book is a learning environment. That’s why school boards and parent groups do some books the vast honor of censoring and excluding them. Much excellent children’s literature has been written by people with no classroom experience but who instinctively work with the reality that what they write will have an “opening” effect more than any “shaping” impact. Maryjo, like every teacher, has contended with pressing varieties of experiences that necessitate helping children to “shape up” in certain ways, but she never surrendered the conviction that the goal beyond any provisional structure was openness.

For teachers and students, July is the dead center of school vacation with last year’s term a fading memory and September still far beyond the tightening horizon. August is when one might begin to sense the oncoming crunch full of unknown opportunities, challenges, disasters, and revelations. Here July is just a girl, awkwardly parentified by adult failures. Then she is the victim and beneficiary of an extreme form of adult intervention into her fractured family dynamic; the kind of decisive interruption that some teachers must restlessly dream of almost as earnestly and hopelessly as some children might do. In this case, July is literally catapulted into an alternative but unsustainable version of childhood by another very damaged adult. But as befitting the target audience, the pace is fast with horrors only hinted at, as some adults gradually galvanize to fashion for her a makeshift version of a new family structure that just might be “good enough” for a time.

This is Maryjo’s first publication with many more in the works. Let’s hope circumstances permit her to continue to apply her experiences, her insights, her humor, her expanding theoretical framework, and her storytelling wizardry to additional ventures crafted to open new doors for teens, parents, learners, and teachers who want to make a better future.



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