The Classy Crooks Club
Author: Alison Cherry
Published March 29th, 2016 by Aladdin
Goodreads Summary: Twelve-year-old AJ dreads spending an entire month living with her strict Grandma Jo. Not only does her grandmother dictate how she walks, what she eats, and which rooms she can enter, she fills all AJ’s free time with boring sewing lessons. Grandma Jo wants nothing more than to transform her adventurous, fun-loving granddaughter into a prim and proper lady.
But AJ’s dull summer takes a sharp turn when she discovers that her grandmother’s “bridge group” is actually a heist club. When Grandma Jo offers to let AJ learn lock-picking instead of embroidery in exchange for help with a few capers, AJ is happy to join her grandmother’s madcap band of thieves, who claim to steal only for ethical reasons. But even the most respectable ladies can hide truly surprising secrets, and AJ finds she must decide for herself what it means to be one of the good guys.
My Review: I love AJ. She is a perfect protagonist because she is just a real middle schooler. She is multi-faceted, funny, has quite a personality, has fears, makes mistakes, and is overall likeable. And she is not the only well-crafted character. Each of the characters, main, secondary, or supporting, are so fully developed that you feel like you know everyone in AJ’s life. I often am skeptical about first person POV because it is always tough to get a character/narrator’s voice perfect while also developing the characters, but Cherry does a great job of both. AJ is a normal middle school girl that is dealing with a quite terrible grandmother who happens to have an unexpected hobby.
Another thing that blew me away about this novel is that something happened that was completely unexpected! Usually when I am reading middle grade novels, I love them but am not often surprised because I can sense foreshadowing and predict; however, Cherry really caught me off guard in this one! You’ll have to let me know if you see it coming!
And finally, I loved the unique premise of the book! Who ever thought there’d be a book about a bunch of old ladies who “liberate” *cough* steal *cough* exotic birds and anything else that suits their fancy?!
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Alison’s guest post, below, made me really think about how grandparents play the role in different books, so Classy Crooks Club and the books listed below could be part of a grandparent-focused lit circle. How do the grandparents in the book differ from the parents (if they are present)? How are the grandparents different than stereotypical grandparents? How do the grandparents influence the main character?
Discussion Questions: Did you predict the climax of the story?; Why do you think the author chose first person point of view?; Why do you think the author doesn’t share what us about Betty’s past?; How does AJ overcome her fear?; Which of the Classy Crooks Club ladies would you want to hang out with and why?; What does Brianna teach AJ about not judging a book by its cover?; Why do you think Brianna is so mean to Maddie?; Why does Maddie get so mad at AJ? Would you have reacted the same way?
We Flagged: “Every single piece of furniture in my grandmother’s house has a name with too many syllables.
At home we have chairs. We have a couch. We have tables. But right now my grandmother is pointing at this hulking wooden thing in the corner of one of her guest bedrooms — my bedroom, for the next month — and calling it a ‘mission chifforobe.’ It looks like what might happen if a dresser and a closet had a really ugly baby. ‘I trust you’ll be very careful with this chiffrobe while you’re here,’ Grandma Jo says, like it’s some fragile, spindly thing I could possibly break by accident. ‘It was once owned by Buckminster Fuller, as was that ottoman.'” (p. 1)
Read This If You Loved: Wig in the Window & Tiara on the Terrace by Kristen Kittscher, Heist Society by Ally Carter, Peter Nimble and his Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier
“Five Books I Loved That Featured Grandparents” by Alison Cherry:
The Witches, Roald Dahl:
This creepy novel from 1983 features a boy who is sent to live with his grandmother after the death of his parents. Grandmother is a retired witch-hunter, and she makes sure her grandson knows how to recognize witches by their unusual traits: bald heads that they cover with wigs, square feet with no toes, clawed hands, and blue spit. Unfortunately, this doesn’t prevent the boy from having a run-in with witches while on vacation, and they turn him into a mouse. Grandmother is presented as incredibly kind and accepting—she doesn’t love her grandson any less once he’s a mouse. She’s also very clever and helps devise a plan to get revenge on the witches. The scene that sticks with me most is one in which Grandmother tells the boy that being a mouse will significantly shorten his lifespan, and he says he doesn’t mind because he doesn’t want to outlive her. I read this book over and over as a child!
Tortilla Sun, Jennifer Cervantes:
When her mother gets a grant to study in Costa Rica for the summer, twelve-year-old Izzy is sent to live with her nana in her tiny, rural New Mexican village. Izzy knows nothing about her Latina heritage or her dead father, whom her mother has always refused to discuss, and her summer with Nana is her first opportunity to learn where she comes from and who she is. Izzy’s nana is patient, wise, warm, and loving, and she lets her granddaughter discover pieces of her past slowly, when she’s ready and able to handle them. Reading this book is a rich sensory experience; the descriptions of Nana’s colorful house, the food she teaches Izzy to cook, and the rest of the characters in the neighborhood are beautifully drawn. It made me want to hang out in the world of the story long after it was over.
You’re Invited, Jen Malone and Gail Nall
This novel from four points of view is about a group of girls who start a party-planning business in their small seaside town. While the book isn’t centered around a grandparent like the other four on this list, Lauren’s grandmother Bubby is my favorite part of the story. Bubby is loud, opinionated, bubbly, and a total flirt—she spends most of the book zooming around on her bright red scooter, Wanda, and trying to catch the eye of “hot” Mr. Vernon from her retirement community. Despite her advanced age, Bubby tries her best to act and speak like a teenager—she’s active on “the Tweeter” and constantly refers to things as “amazeballs” and “ubercute.” This horrifies Lauren, who is significantly more dignified, but it delights me to no end. I sincerely wish I had a grandmother like Bubby.
The Lightning Queen, Laura Resau:
This gorgeous novel is about Teo, an indigenous Mexican boy, and Esma, a Romani girl who comes through his village with her caravan each summer. Despite their differences, a fortune teller states that they are destined to be friends for life, however unlikely it may seem. Because the story is told primarily in flashbacks, the reader gets to meet Teo as both a child and as an elderly healer who has lost touch with his lifelong friend and needs his grandson’s help to find her again. Teo is a delight in both incarnations—he’s kind and gentle and incredibly smart, the only boy in his village who braves school and learns to read. Teo also has a soft spot for rescuing animals—as a child, his constant companions are a duck, a blind goat, and a three-legged skunk. Both the Mixteco and Romani communities are treated with great sensitivity, and the writing is captivating.
The Secret Hum of a Daisy, Tracy Holczer:
When her mother dies suddenly, Grace is forced to move in with her estranged grandmother, who sent Grace’s mother away when she got pregnant as a teenager. Grace automatically assumes her grandmother is a horrible person and sets out to be a complete brat, hoping she’ll be sent away. Grace’s grandmother isn’t warm, but she’s patient and steady and gives Grace the space she needs to work out her grief; she’s there every time Grace needs her, but she doesn’t try to force her into a relationship before she’s ready. Grace eventually begins to respect her grandmother’s honesty, forthrightness, and willingness to take responsibility for mistakes she made in the past, even when it makes her look bad. The writing in this book is beautiful, lyrical, and deeply felt—it feels as if Tracy Holczer dug this story up from deep in her soul and pasted it directly onto the page. It’s one of my favorite depictions of two people who have suffered deep losses taking a chance on loving each other, even though it’s hard and painful.
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**Thank you to Alison for providing a copy for review and the guest post!**