Nick Hall is an eighth grader. A really smart eighth grader who loves soccer and hates school. Unfortunately, he has a father who is a linguistics professor afflicted with chronic verbomania* (he loves words so much that he has written a dictionary, Weird and Wonderful Words, which he is forcing Nick to read, one letter at a time). Of course, Nick's father is much more interested in developing his son's cognitive abilities than in supporting Nick's passion for soccer.
Most of Nick's problems are typical middle school problems-- a budding interest in a girl, the school bullies, Don and Dean Eggleston, twins who steal Nick's bike, preparing for an upcoming soccer tournament. At least most of his problems are typical until his parents inform him they are separating and his mother is leaving the state to return to her first love, training horses. And of course the book has a couple of caring adults- one of whom happens to be a former Grammy-winning rapper turned school librarian, Mr. MacDonald.
What's not typical about this book are Kwame Alexander's poems. Alexander uses a zillion different poetic forms- including free verse, acrostics, found poems, and lots of others. Alexander also uses tons of interesting and unusual vocabulary- codswalloped, limerence, cacchinate.
This book has been a huge hit at school. I read this in October, then put it out in the fifth grade classroom where I was substituting. I haven't seen it since- I had to check it out of the library because I wanted to reread it to write my review.
*a love of words
GARVEY'S CHOICE, by Nikki Grimes, is another book that features a main character who doesn't live up to his father's expectations. Garvey's father dreams of having a football playing athlete of a son, but Garvey is a slightly overweight, space-loving guy whose older sister often steps in to protect her brother from her father's sports mania.
Garvey feels less than adequate, until a friend tells him to "Choose the name you answer to. No one can do that but you." Garvey finds his "name" in the school choir, and ultimately earns his father's respect.
Another terrific novel in verse, done all in tanka, syllable pattern of 5-7-5-7-7.