Absolutely Almost

Absolutely Almost

5.0 1
by Lisa Graff
     
 

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From the author of the National Book Award nominee A TANGLE OF KNOTS comes an inspiring novel about figuring out who you are and doing what you love.

Albie has never been the smartest kid in his class. He has never been the tallest. Or the best at gym. Or the greatest artist. Or the most musical. In fact, Albie has a long list of the things he's not very…  See more details below

Overview

From the author of the National Book Award nominee A TANGLE OF KNOTS comes an inspiring novel about figuring out who you are and doing what you love.

Albie has never been the smartest kid in his class. He has never been the tallest. Or the best at gym. Or the greatest artist. Or the most musical. In fact, Albie has a long list of the things he's not very good at. But then Albie gets a new babysitter, Calista, who helps him figure out all of the things he is good at and how he can take pride in himself.

A perfect companion to Lisa Graff's National Book Award-nominated A Tangle of Knots, this novel explores a similar theme in a realistic contemporary world where kids will easily be able to relate their own struggles to Albie's. Great for fans of Rebecca Stead's Liar and Spy, RJ Palacio's Wonder and Cynthia Lord's Rules.

Praise for Lisa Graff's novels

Tangle of Knots (nominated for a National Book Award)
* "Combining the literary sensibility of E. B. White with the insouciance of Louis Sachar, Graff has written a tangle that should satisfy readers for years to come."--Booklist, starred review

Double Dog Dare
"Graff's...story is lighthearted and humorous, but honestly addresses the emotions associated with divorce. Her characters' voices, interactions, and hangups are relatable, as they battle each other and adjust to their families' reconfigurations."--Publishers Weekly

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Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal
★ 05/01/2014
Gr 4–6—Albie, an only child living in New York City, has learning difficulties. No matter how hard he tries to give the correct change to the takeout delivery guy, or get all his spelling words correct, he inevitably fails to get it right. When readers meet the fifth-grader, he's just left his fancy private school and is about to be the new kid at public school. His dad is mostly absent and forgetful, except when demanding that Albie try harder. His mom tells him that Dav Pilkey's "Captain Underpants" (Scholastic) is for babies, and gives him Esther Forbes's Johnny Tremain instead. His exacting Korean grandfather predicts that he will end up in a ditch. At school, despite some sympathetic teachers, he is bullied and teased. His only friend is Betsy, reserved and bullied herself. Things begin to change when Albie gets a new babysitter. Calista is an artist and definitely unusual: she makes a cover for Albie's Captain Underpants that says "Johnny Tremain." She takes him for donuts and to art exhibits and, most importantly, she likes him for who he is. Albie's just-believable naiveté leads him into social difficulties as he is given an opportunity to be one of the "cool" kids, even though this entails abandoning his friendship with Betsy. Despite the fact that Graff is scrupulously honest in refusing to provide a conveniently happy ending, Albie comes through significant emotional hardship to a genuine sense of self-worth. Albie himself would find this book inviting at first glance: short chapters, an accessible sans serif font, and plenty of white space, and even his mom might think it acceptable for a fifth grader.—Sue Giffard, Ethical Culture Fieldston School, New York City
Publishers Weekly
★ 04/21/2014
Half-Korean 10-year-old Albie is being forced to switch from his private New York City school to P.S. 183. His new school gives him more specialized attention, but it also means dodging a name-calling bully and making friends other than his buddy Erlan, whose family is starring in a reality TV show. Because of Albie’s academic struggles (especially in spelling and math), his mother hires Calista, a college art student, to tutor and spend time with him. Albie isn’t happy about these and other developments, and his matter-of-fact observations are often both humorous and poignant: “I didn’t think the book was for babies at all, because for one thing babies can’t read,” he thinks after his mother tells him he’s “way too old” for Captain Underpants and hands him a copy of Johnny Tremain. Graff’s (A Tangle of Knots) gentle story invokes evergreen themes of coming to appreciate one’s strengths (and weaknesses), and stands out for its thoughtful, moving portrait of a boy who learns to keep moving forward, taking on the world at his own speed. Ages 8–12. Agent: Stephen Barbara, Foundry Literary + Media. (June)
Diane Colson
Albie almost understands why he is starting fifth grade at a new school. It’s got something to do with the
things he can’t quite do, like subtract numbers inside his head or figure out the words in books.
Fortunately, Albie also gets a kindhearted new sitter named Calista, who can turn Albie’s sadness into
happiness simply through the magic of donuts. But even Calista can’t stop the mean kid at school from
calling Albie names or make Albie’s parents see how hard he tries in school. As every kid knows, some
problems take more than donuts to solve. Graff (A Tangle of Knots, 2013) creates a heartfelt portrait of a
child searching for nothing more than a safe place to thrive. The story is parsed into short chapters that can
stand alone as mini-stories, perfect for young readers who aren’t ready to tackle full pages of text. This
format is also well-suited to presenting the incremental steps of Albie’s evolution from bewildered victim
to hero of his own story. Beautifully written, Albie’s story is accessible and dignified, with a gentle
message that will touch any reader’s heart. Middle-grade readers will love the references to Dav Pilkey’s
inexhaustibly popular Captain Underpants series, which has introduced so many children to the fun side of
reading. A perfect book to share with struggling readers.
From the Publisher
Praise for ABSOLUTELY ALMOST 
 
* "Albie comes through significant emotional hardship to a genuine sense of self-worth."—School Library Journal, starred review
 
* "A perfect book to share with struggling readers."—Booklist, starred review
 
* "Achingly superb, Albie’s story shines."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
 
* "Graff’s...gentle story invokes evergreen themes of coming to appreciate one’s strengths (and weaknesses), and stands out for its thoughtful, moving portrait of a boy who learns to keep moving forward, taking on the world at his own speed."—Publishers Weekly, starred review
 
"Lately the patrons of my school library have been asking, “Do you have any books like Wonder by R.J. Palacio?” and now I have the perfect offering."—BookPage 

"Maybe the wonder of Absolutely Almost is that it’s willing to give us an almost unheard of hero."—Betsy Bird, Fuse #8 Blog

"Graff...again draws on her ability to create rich lifeworlds for her characters to present a boy who is gifted in many ways....[T]his is a sharp portrait of an outsider’s inner perspective, and Albie’s coming to terms with himself will be cheered by many."—BCCB Reviews

Children's Literature - Aimee Isaac
Albie Schaffhauser is an almost. He is almost smart, almost athletic, almost artistic, and almost who his parents want him to be. But, like most ten-year-olds, Albie isn’t satisfied with being almost. Albie’s moves from a fancy New York private school to public school. He misses spending more time with his best friend and neighbor, who has become a reality TV star, Erlan, and struggles to feel cool when the popular kid, Darren, rejects him. Albie soon bonds with another social outcast, Betsy. With Betsy’s friendship and the help of his insightful nanny, Calista, and his understanding math teacher, Mr. Clifton, Albie gets a little closer to knowing who he is. Graff’s expertise in building a memorable character with a distinct voice combined with a very relatable storyline makes this book a knockout. She incorporates diverse yet non-stereotypical characters that navigate the ups and downs of fifth grade. Graff packs in a ton of honesty and heart as well, especially in her portrayal of Albie’s relationship with his parents. Without being over the top, Graff leaves readers with some important messages about dealing with the lows in life and celebrating kindness. While the main character is a boy, this book should appeal to girls as well due to its depth and relatability. Teachers will find opportunity to discuss the deeper meaning behind some of the novel’s themes. The prose is beautifully written and accessible to even the most reluctant readers. This book will be enjoyed by all. Reviewer: Aimee Isaac; Ages 8 up.
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2014-04-16
In a tale about not being good enough, Graff introduces readers to a young hero who struggles to measure up.Graff, whose A Tangle of Knots was on the 2013 National Book Award longlist, here gracefully fuses heartache with a gentle humor and candor. Life is stressful for Albie. Mom and Dad struggle to understand him, and his grandpa Park creates tension with his withering appraisal. When he gets kicked out of his pricey Manhattan private school due to academic shortcomings, Albie must deal with his parents' outbursts and his own dizzying emotions. This marks a turning point, though; with his move to P.S. 183, he gains an ally in a fellow outcast, the stuttering Betsy, and his new babysitter, free-wheeling art student Calista, listens to him in a way the other adults in his life do not. These relationships carry him through some improbable plot twists into understanding and self-acceptance. The prose is sparse, simple and conversational, capturing turmoil both internal and external perfectly: "Potential. Struggling. Achievement gap. [These are words] that make my dad slam his fist on the table and call my teacher to shout…and my mom to go out and buy fruit. When Mom comes back with strawberries, her face is always crystal clear. Not an almost-crying face at all. I used to really like strawberries." Achingly superb, Albie's story shines. (Fiction. 8-12)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780698158535
Publisher:
Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date:
06/12/2014
Sold by:
Penguin Group
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
304
Sales rank:
77,032
Lexile:
750L (what's this?)
File size:
3 MB
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1: Rocks

"Not everybody can be the rock at the top of the rock pile.” That’s what my grandpa Park said to my mom once when they thought I was asleep, or just not listening, I don’t know. But my ears work fine. “There have to be some rocks at the bottom, to support those at the top.”

I sat in my bedroom, knocking the army men one by one off my windowsill. Dad said I was getting too old to play with them, so I didn’t play, just knocked them over. Plunk, plunk, plunk, on the bedspread. But I did it quiet so no one would hear. plunk . . . plunk. For some reason, I felt heavy inside, listening to them talk out in the living room. Or maybe heavy on the outside, like something was pressing down on top of me, when really it was nothing but air. plunk. plunk.

If I listened real close, I could hear Grandpa Park’s ice clicking in his glass when he lifted it to drink.

plunk.

It was quiet in the living room, no talking, only ice, for a long time. When I got to the last army man, I didn’t set them up again right away. I stared at them on the bed, knocked over sideways or on their bellies. On some you could see the black marker where I’d marked their feet when I first learned to write my name. A for Albie.

It was quiet so long that I thought my mom must’ve gone to bed, and it was just Grandpa Park out there with his glass, drinking down till the ice melted like he usually did when he came to visit. But then Mom said something, so I knew she hadn’t gone to bed after all. She said it real quiet, but I heard.

“Albie’s not a rock,” she said.
 

What People are saying about this

Sue Gifford
Gr 4-6–Albie, an only child living in New York City, has learning difficulties. No matter how hard he tries to give the correct change to the takeout delivery guy, or get all his spelling words correct, he inevitably fails to get it right. When readers meet the fifth-grader, he’s just left his fancy private school and is about to be the new kid at public school. His dad is mostly absent and forgetful, except when demanding that Albie try harder. His mom tells him that Dav Pilkey’s “Captain Underpants” (Scholastic) is for babies, and gives him Esther Forbes’s Johnny Tremain instead. His exacting Korean grandfather predicts that he will end up in a ditch. At school, despite some sympathetic teachers, he is bullied and teased. His only friend is Betsy, reserved and bullied herself. Things begin to change when Albie gets a new babysitter. Calista is an artist and definitely unusual: she makes a cover for Albie’s Captain Underpants that says “Johnny Tremain.” She takes him for donuts and to art exhibits and, most importantly, she likes him for who he is. Albie’s just-believable naiveté leads him into social difficulties as he is given an opportunity to be one of the “cool” kids, even though this entails abandoning his friendship with Betsy. Despite the fact that Graff is scrupulously honest in refusing to provide a conveniently happy ending, Albie comes through significant emotional hardship to a genuine sense of self-worth. Albie himself would find this book inviting at first glance: short chapters, an accessible sans serif font, and plenty of white space, and even his mom might think it acceptable for a fifth grader.
Elissa Gershowitz
Ten-year-old New Yorker Albie is starting at P.S. 183, having been kicked out of his fancy prep school because of low grades. Albie tries hard, but he’s a middle-of-the-road (at best) student, an “almost,” as he calls it. At his new school, he starts a tentative friendship with fellow outcast Betsy, who has a stutter, and he’s buoyed by small successes in math club and on spelling tests. Most importantly, though, his new babysitter, Calista, is a sympathetic adult. Her low-key approach to confidence-boosting includes teaching him to draw superheroes and taking him to the zoo for a “sad day” after a particularly challenging day of school—which, unfortunately, leads to her dismissal. Like Kevin Henkes’s Billy Miller (The Year of Billy Miller, rev. 9/13), Albie is a sweet, vulnerable kid who just needs a little extra help and to whom readers may well relate. Short chapters—some just one page—add to the story’s accessibility and keep the pace moving. The characters are well rounded, and, gratifyingly, even Albie’s seemingly single-minded, results-driven parents come through for him in the end.
From the Publisher
Rave reviews for Absolutely Almost!

" Graff’s gentle story invokes evergreen themes of coming to appreciate one’s strengths (and weaknesses), and stands out for its thoughtful, moving portrait of a boy who learns to keep moving forward, taking on the world at his own speed.” – Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Achingly superb, Albie’s story shines.” - Kirkus Reviews, starred review
 
“…Albie comes through significant emotional hardship to a genuine sense of self-worth.” – SLJ, starred review

“Beautifully written, Albie’s story is accessible and dignified, with a gentle message that will touch any reader’s heart. Middle-grade readers will love the references to Dav Pilkey’s inexhaustibly popular Captain Underpants series, which has introduced so many children to the fun side of reading. A perfect book to share with struggling readers.” - Booklist, starred review

 

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Meet the Author

Lisa Graff is the National Book Award nominated author of A Tangle of Knots, Double Dog Dare, Umbrella Summer, The Life and Crimes of Bernetta Wallflower,The Thing About Georgie and Sophie Simon Solves Them All. Originally from California, she lived for many years in New York City and now makes her home just outside of Philadelphia. You can visit her online at www.lisagraff.com or follow her on Twitter @lisagraff.

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