Things Seen from Above

Knopf. Feb. 2020. 272p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781524717391.
Gr 4-6–When sixth-grader April Boxler volunteers to spend time on the school playground’s Buddy Bench, she doesn’t expect it to change the way she sees everything. In fact, she only agreed to spend recess with the fourth graders to avoid dealing with her own changing friendships. But it’s on the bench where April first watches fourth-grader Joey Bird walking in what seems to be deliberate patterns. Thanks to the help of the kind school janitor, Mr. Ulysses, April is able to get a “bird’s-eye view” of Joey’s playground designs. She begins to recognize the quiet boy’s unique perspective. The Buddy Bench also turns out to be a place for April to make a new friend, Veena, a new student from India. Together, April and Veena try to understand Joey, who would prefer to be left alone with his “tracings.” As more attention is drawn to Joey’s talent, his private world is disrupted and April learns that actions have consequences. April also begins to consider viewpoints other than her own, a sign of her growing empathy. As Mr. Ulysses tells her, “I came to the conclusion a long time ago that people often see only what they expect to see. If they don’t expect much, they don’t see much.” The story is told primarily from April’s point of view, but chapters giving more insight into Joey—including his art—enrich and expand this thoughtful novel of emotional growth.
VERDICT Readers will think about this novel after they’ve closed the book. It’s full of heart and is sure to encourage looking at the world through a new lens.

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