When you see this book on the shelves in the middle-grade section, with its aptly named title, you know you will be reading about a kid who is a juvenile delinquent stuck in his house; what this title omits is the raw emotion you will have hurled at you by page five. I suspected boredom and a rite of passage to be found in this blue-covered book. What I didn’t intend to find was a day obliterated by reading because I couldn’t stop crying, couldn’t stop being angry, couldn’t stop laughing, … well, I just couldn’t stop reading a journal written by Timothy, who is under house arrest for stealing a wallet in hopes there would be enough money in it to buy medicine for his extremely sick baby brother.
House Arrest, by K. A. Holt, is more than just a story of a kid gone wrong; it is a story told in verse of pride, humility and sacrifice done in honor of family. When Timothy’s baby brother is brought into the world, he cannot breathe. He had to have a tracheotomy, causing him to need constant care and endless amounts of medical supplies. All of this is too much for Timothy’s father, so he deserts his family, leaving the mom to support both boys financially, mentally and physically. As a mom, my heart was breaking. How do you balance a sick kid with one full of vitality and try to work to maintain the mortgage, the utilities and manage to sleep? As a mom, as a teacher, as an empathetic person, my head was reeling as I turned the pages of this emotional journal.
Through Timothy and his experiences I found his 52 weeks astounding–I discovered how pride can be strong even in one so young. Timothy doesn’t want to admit to his probation officer, his counselor or his friends his true struggle of living with shoes too small, a belly that is never full, a brother who is constantly turning blue, a nurse who is evil to the sick baby brother. Oh, my heart just aches trying to summarize Timothy’s amazing tale. I want to go into my classroom and ask, ‘Does anyone need shoes?’ But I know, thanks to this 13-year-old’s tale, that no one is going to raise their hand. No one is going to admit defeat. No one is going to show a teacher, a probation officer or even their friends how deep the sorrow goes and how much the need is present. Timothy is a hero and I’m sure there are many more unbeknownst to all of us.
In the classroom:
This is not just a book to add to the school library. This is a book to purchase in bulk. Buy a classroom set and share it with every middle-grade class in the school. I don’t say this about too many books, but I will say this offers multiple elements to offer middle grades. It is written in narrative verse. It is casual in tone, but emotionally weighted. If you have extra money at the end of the year, I encourage you to read this, and if it speaks to your soul like it did mine, it will be a great read for the entire classroom.
As an activity for the classroom–I could give you a unit, but I will leave that for you to develop as this could be easily done with this book–I will focus on 7th grade Common Core Standard Literacy 7.1A-E. This element is focusing on creating a claim and a formal paper to follow. There are multiple claims to write in regard to Timothy and his choices–not just the one which lands him under house arrest, but the myriad of them throughout the story. After having your students create a claim statement, have them further the claim with specific pieces of evidence found throughout the story. Have your students develop precise introductions and conclusions to their piece of writing. Make sure they are understanding the elements found in both of those paragraphs: hook statements, claim statements and concluding statements. Be specific in your use of formal language and the revision process. Give them a peer edit sheet to ensure all students are perfecting these elements. Claim statements vary from thesis statements, so make sure your students grasp the difference between the two. Establishing this formal writing process is sure to promote successful writers as they continue to their high school education.