An oversized imaginary cat. Dreams of becoming a scientist. Homelessness. While there is much magic in Newbery Medal Winner Katherine Applegate’s CRENSHAW, there’s also the very real and yet, often underrepresented topic of homelessness that’s brought to light specifically for a middle grade audience. And thanks to an unforgettable first-person narrative read by two-time Odyssey Award Winner Kirby Heyborne, this audiobook is a great way to initiate important conversation.
In CRENSHAW, listeners meet fourth grader Jackson and his family, who have fallen on hard times. There’s no more money for rent. And not much for food, either. His parents, his little sister, and their dog may have to live in their minivan. Again.
Crenshaw is a cat. He’s large, he’s outspoken, and he’s imaginary. He has come back into Jackson’s life to help him. But is an imaginary friend enough to save this family from losing everything?“Young listeners will be reassured by Heyborne’s quiet delivery as they hear about a difficult topic.”—AudioFile
The Shared Audio Experience
Carolina Parent recommends CRENSHAW as a family listen that can increase communication and initiate needed discussion about the topic of homelessness. “Many families use videos on long trips, but a shared audio experience is more likely to stimulate meaningful conversations…Fourth grader Jackson is horrified at the reappearance of his imaginary friend Crenshaw, an oversized imaginary cat who showed up three years before when the family was homeless. Heyborne makes Jackson’s bewilderment as clear as the way his parents downplay their predicament. A great way to open conversations about this difficult subject.”
“It is an issue that we really don’t talk about”
In a Q&A with School Library Journal‘s Rocco Staino, author Applegate explained, “I went into this book after visiting a school for homeless children in San Diego. It focuses only on homeless kids. Their stories stayed with me. I wanted to explore the issue of the working poor in America. So often when you visit a Title 1 school, you see these kids whose parents are struggling. They are so aware—they know about money. It is an issue that we really don’t talk about…Teachers and librarians see families like that all the time. They see kids coming to school hungry. They see kids who don’t know where they’ll be sleeping that night. These kids don’t want to hear about income inequality or hidden hunger. They just want a friend to tell them everything’s going to be ok. For Jackson, that friend just happens to be Crenshaw, a very large, imaginary cat.”
Karen Jensen, of Teen Librarian Toolbox, has often written about the need to see more depictions of poverty in books for children. In her post on Rotters (an audiobook that’s intended for a mature teen audience), she wrote “Violence. Bullying. School testing. We talk a lot about the issues affecting the lives of teens, but we don’t talk enough about one of the biggest: poverty and food insecurity. 1 out of 5 children don’t know when—or if—they are going to get to eat today… Libraries are all about educating the people and helping them reach their personal best, and we can do that by making sure that our administrators, our communities and our teens know what a pressing issue poverty and hunger is.”
Audiobooks have a critical role to play in our shared commitment to diverse literature. As librarian Thom Barthelmess shares on www.HearDiversity.com, “By listening to diverse books, we come to understand the deep significance of every life, and, by extension, our common humanity.” Find CRENSHAW and other recommended titles that address the topic of income here.
“A compelling and unflinchingly honest treatment of a difficult topic.”—School Library Journal, starred review
“Newbery winner Applegate uses gentle humor, embodied by Crenshaw, to explore the topic of homelessness…encourages people of all ages to be honest with one another and value family and friends (real and imaginary!).”—Booklist
More audiobooks that are the cat’s meow…
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