Isaiah Dunn Is My Hero by Kelly J. Baptist

Isaiah Dunn’s life has been trending downward, but the power of words and the discipline of work may pull him back up.

Isaiah Dunn Is My Hero by Kelly J. Baptist. Crown, 2020, 208 pages.

Reading Level: Middle Grades, ages 8-10

Recommended for: ages 10-12

Mama didn’t do very well after Daddy died, and neither did me and Charlie I guess. But at least me and Charlie started to have some sunny days after a while. But Mama’s been all rain.

Daddy’s death was sudden, and one thing it taught Isaiah was how quickly things could change. Mama took so much time off from work she lost her job. Then the family lost their lease, and instead of being a few flights up from his best friend Sneaky, Isaiah and his mom and little sister are living in the “Smoky Inn”—his name for the motel that smells like cigarette smoke all the time. Sneaky is the only one that knows that, but even Sneaky doesn’t suspect Isaiah’s love of (and gift for) words. It’s an inheritance from Daddy, who filled a notebook with stories about “Isaiah Dunn, Superhero.” Isaiah discovered the notebook after Daddy died, and is reading slowly through it.

His own gift is for poetry–putting words together in pictures is like solving a puzzle. He keeps his poems to himself, and a lot of other things besides. His teacher Mrs. Fisher hasn’t a clue and Angel Atkins, his classroom nemesis, likes to call him “Isaiah Dumb.”

The action takes place from March to July, with Mama’s ups and downs, Isaiah’s highs and lows, old friends alienated and new friends made—typical for a fifth-grader’s life, with the added drama of impending disaster. Isaiah is a winning character with more than his share of hard knocks and subsequent confusion and resentment. But his trajectory is generally up, with some good and very good counteracting the bad and very bad. A new acquaintance tells him what his name means: “Salvation is of the Lord.” The author leaves no hint as to whether Isaiah’s trend toward sunniness is from the Lord, but we’re free to imagine so.

Overall Rating: 4.25 (out of 5)

Worldview/moral value: 3.75Artistic/literary value: 4.5Consideration:

There’s one instance of “Sweet Jesus” profanity.Also at Redeemed Reader:

Jason Reynold’s Track Series presents four young African Americans with various life challenges, finding hope and building character. For older teens, see our review of When I Was the Greatest.

Isaiah has a natural gift for slinging rhymes, but some of us think I’m Just No Good at Rhyming! See our review of this delightful poetry book, and also Betsy’s thoughts on Waxing Poetic.

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