A Whole New Ballgame

illus. by Tim Probert. 224p. Farrar. Aug. 2015. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9780374301309.
Gr 4–6—Red and Rip are best friends just beginning fifth grade. It's the first day of school and everyone appears to know who the teacher will be and how the year will progress—but not so fast…there is a new teacher, a young man with piercings, tattoos, and a whole new way of teaching. Mr. Acevedo loves reading, will not abide test prep or standardized test-taking, and has a love of basketball. Readers will realize early on that Red is on the autism spectrum. Like their new teacher, Red and Rip share a passion for basketball. Narrated by Rip (better known as Mason Irving to Red, who insists on calling his friend by his full name and never his nickname), the book depicts the evolution of a group of fifth graders who learn a lot, grow a lot, and help one another. The relationship between Rip and Avery Goodman (a girl in a wheelchair with anger issues) centers on a class project about gross things and highlights what nasty stuff gets caught on Avery's wheelchair wheels. Though the plot and its conclusion may be somewhat predictable, the charming and diverse characters as well as the engaging voice of Rip more than make up for it.
VERDICT Pure fun with a lot of heart.

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