Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Swimming Upstream: Middle School Poems

Swimming Upstream: Middle School Poems

Kristine O'Connell George
Illustrator:  Debbie Tilley 
Poetry
For ages 9 to 12
Clarion Books, 2002   ISBN: 978-0618152506

It is September again and a new school year at a new school has begun. For some it is time full of dread, and for others it is a time that they have been looking forward to. Before the first bell rings, a girl sees friends whom she knew when she was in elementary school. Some look the same, and some have changed over the summer. Then the bell rings and “everyone scatters, / each of us going / our separate ways.”

Now the confusion begins. A locker won’t open, she gets lost, she is late because she is lost, and by the time she finds her homeroom all she wants to do is to hide in “the last row.” Then, when the bell rings again, the confusion starts all over as she swims “upstream” against the flow of students to get to her next class. As the crazy day unfolds, even the inside of the girl’s locker start to look comfortingly cozy. At least the locker is “a space all my own.”

At lunchtime she has no idea where to sit. Her friends from last year have changed and now there all these new people that she has to deal with, people she doesn’t know at all. She sees Margo, but Margo doesn’t see her and soon is gone. Then she sees Kori, the friend from second grade who moved away but who is now back. A familiar face at last!

Middle school is different from elementary school on so many levels. Not only is it bigger, louder, and very confusing, but she is soon loaded down with homework, textbooks, and a musical instrument.

As the days go by, some things, like math, friends, and books from the library, make her days brighter and better. Other things, like the flute that refuses to play properly, the gossips, and the snobs, make the days worse. Middle school is a very yes and no, good and bad, sort of place.

Using a series of wonderful, relatively short, poems, the author of this book takes us into the world of a new middle school student. We follow as she falls for a boy, takes and aces tests, learns phrases in French and Spanish from her friends, and learns how to find her way around what, at first, is a very alien environment. With humor, candor and sensitivity, the author gives us slices of a year in the girl’s life, and we are left knowing that though there were hard times, she comes out of it stronger and happier than she went in.

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