Charlie isn’t looking forward to sixth grade. After all, if he starts sixth grade, chances are he’ll finish it. And when he does, he’ll be older than his older brother ever was. Armstrong isn’t looking forward to sixth grade, either. This year, he’ll have to wake up at 5:30 to ride a bus to an all-white school in the Hollywood Hills.
When Armstrong and Charlie are assigned seats next to each other, what starts as a rivalry becomes a close friendship. Set in Los Angeles in the 1970s, Armstrong and Charlie is the hilarious, heartwarming tale of two boys from opposite worlds. Different, yet the same.
Potentially Sensitive Areas: Guns, Mild language; Violence; Mild sexual themes; Racism and racist language; Antisemitism; Inhumane treatment of animals
Booklist (January 1, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 9))
Grades 5-8. When an all-white school in the Hollywood Hills experimentally takes a busload of African American students from South Central L.A. (this is 1974), two sixth-graders from very different backgrounds work their way over a decidedly rocky road towards friendship. Both are on emotional knife edges: for Charlie, who is white, it’s because his adored older brother died a few months ago, and now his friends are all suddenly transferring. Meanwhile, African American Armstrong, angry about his own transfer, is inclined to solve problems with his fists. Armstrong’s adjustment isn’t made any easier by his reception, which ranges from playground chants to an ambush after he kisses a white girl. Frank has his two protagonists share narrator duty (interspersed with multiple transcripts of incident reports) as they move from mutual hostility and incomprehension to respect. In the end, social and racial gulfs remain, but a closing wash of warm graduation-day sentiment leaves a sense of hope that they may one day close.
Kirkus Reviews starred (February 1, 2017)
Two sixth-grade boys from different worlds are brought together by school desegregation in 1970s Los Angeles.“Opportunity Busing” brings Armstrong and nine other middle schoolers from South Central LA to integrate the previously all-white Wonderland Avenue School in the Hollywood Hills. Armstrong, a witty and sharp-witted black boy, plays fast and loose with the rules at his new school, where not everyone is welcoming. Charlie, one of Wonderland’s white students, has earned the nickname “Rules Boy” and is curious about the tough-talking Armstrong. Charlie lives with his parents, who are grieving the death of Charlie’s older brother. Armstrong lives with his parents and a house full of older sisters. The boys find that their many differences can be bridged and that friendship is possible, if not easy. For Armstrong, Charlie, and their classmates, this memorable school year is a time of discovery and disappointment, fistfights, and first kisses. Period details from the ’70s and hilarious dialogue will draw readers in from the very first pages. Inspired by the author’s own sixth-grade experience, the story perfectly captures the full spectrum of budding adolescence; Armstrong and Charlie are as sensitive as they are daring as they figure out who they want to be in the changing world around them. Unforgettable, well-drawn titular characters are the heart of this deeply moving and laugh-out-loud funny story about family, friendship, integrity, and navigating differences. (Historical fiction. 10-14)
About the Author
Steven Frank is the author of The Pen Commandments (Pantheon/Anchor Books), a guide to writing that Booklist called “funny, inspiring, personal, moving, and often hilarious.” His middle grade short fiction and plays have appeared Weekly Reader’s Writing and Read Magazines. He is also a beloved middle school teacher at Le Lycee Francais of Los Angeles, where his students often intentionally misbehave because he punishes them with fun writing assignments.
His website is www.stevenbfrank.com.
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