cover image Spaceman


Jane Cutler. Dutton Books, $14.99 (144pp) ISBN 978-0-525-45636-0

This refreshing book focuses on a boy who triumphs, but whose definition of success is unique. Gary is failing every subject in fifth grade. His teachers yell at him, other boys harass him, and his dad is angrily impatient with him. His only escape? ""Gary was spacing out, staring out the window, showing them he wasn't paying attention and that he hadn't heard a single word they'd said."" No magic wish, lucky penny or superstar sports ability surfaces to rescue Gary and turn him into a hero. On the contrary, he is diagnosed as having ""special learning styles"" and, because of his behavior problems, is sent to the county's special-needs class. Cutler (Family Dinner; No Dogs Allowed) shows how Gary comes to terms with his learning disabilities. At his new school the teacher slowly helps him create a safe space where for the first time he can make some friends and has no need to ""space out."" The deft portrayal of threatened parents, unusual children and impatient teachers populates this book with interesting minor characters. To her great credit, the author avoids sentimentalization of Gary and the other special-needs students. Instead, she uses the occasion for crisp, brisk storytelling. Ages 9-13. (Mar.)