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by Pat Schmatz

Published by Candlewick Press, 2011
240 pages
ISBN: trade 978𢠩636-53347

Ages 10-14

Travis lives with his alcoholic grandpa, who is barely making ends meet. When they move to a new town to start over, he feels like an outsider in his new school, until he is befriended by another outsider, a smart, funny girl who has completely embraced the nickname her schoolmates taunt her with: Velveeta. Travis knows what it抯 like to have a nickname that sticks. His own from his previous school was Bluefish, the name of the lowest reading group he was in during first grade梐nd, in fact, he has never learned to read. Both Travis and Velveeta are mourning the loss of someone they loved (Travis: his dog; Velveeta: an elderly neighbor who was kind to her), and their stories are told in alternating points of view. A third friend who joins their circle comes from a middle-class family, but he is small for his age and frequently the target of bullies. Even though Travis抯 and Velveeta抯 families are living on the edge of economic survival, just barely scraping by, their resilience and friendship hold them together. Author Pat Schmatz portrays a middle-school student who can抰 read梐nd his struggles to learn how under the tutelage of a gifted, caring teacher. Original storytelling, fresh characters, distinctive voices, and a well-realized rural Wisconsin setting make this an engaging and satisfying story.  © Cooperative Children's Book Center

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