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Where the Steps Were Hardcover – March 1, 2008
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From School Library Journal
Grade 2–4—Free-verse voices of five different third graders relate the last year of Pleasant Hill School before it is torn down. All of the children have their issues—Jonathan's family is temporarily homeless, Kayla's brother is in jail, Dawn feels fat—but the youngsters are bound by their love for their teacher, Miss D., and for their school. The poems relate both the larger issues and familiar day-to-day details: lessons, getting ready for a play, playground jealousies. Cheng is a skilled writer with an ability to relate a realistic child perspective that is deceptively simple. Here, unfortunately, her efforts are hampered by her own concept and art. The five voices are not distinct, making it difficult to trace any character arc, and the woodblock illustrations lack child appeal. The book design, while elegant, speaks to a much older audience—at least middle school, and most likely adults. These elements taken together completely undercut the appeal for the audience to which the words speak best. Except as a classroom read-aloud, it's hard to imagine this book leaving a library shelf.—Nina Lindsay, Oakland Public Library, CA
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Writing in the style of Walter Dean Myers’ Here in Harlem: Poems in Many Voices (2004), though for a much younger audience, Cheng introduces five students in Miss D.’s third grade, who speak in alternating voices. They are sad that their inner-city Cincinnati school is being demolished; they want to stay there with their beloved teacher. She is white, and they know from her history lessons that in the past they could not have sat together on the bus. Langston Hughes’ poetry makes them think of their very different dreams and lives: Dawn is proud that her mom is going to school to become a nurse; Jonathan wants to leave the homeless shelter where he lives; Carmen longs for the lead in the school play; Antony doesn’t want to be called a nerd. At the center of the book, uniting the students, is a racist incident; the whole class is made to leave a local theater. The fast, immediate free verse makes this great for readers’ theater. Black-and-white woodcuts done by the author provide futher commentary on the world in which the kids live. Grades 2-5. --Hazel Rochman
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