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’s 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—and, 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’s and Velveeta’s 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’t read—and 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
Pat Schmatz was raised in rural Wisconsin; they have lived in Amherst and Nelsonville. They currently divide their time between Wisconsin and Minnesota.
CCBC Age Recommendation: Ages 10-14
Age Range: Grades 3-5 (Ages 8-10) Grades 6-8 (Ages 11-13) Grades 9-12 (Age 14 and older)
Subjects: Bullying and Teasing Drugs and Alcohol Economic Hardship and Poverty Grandfathers Grief and Loss Perspective/Point of View Reading and Writing School Self-Esteem and Self-Worth Small Town Life Teachers/Mentors
Publish Year: 2011
CCBC Location: Fiction, Schmatz