Title: Merci Suárez Changes Gears
Author: Meg Medina
Publication Date: September 11th, 2018
Genre/Format: Realistic Fiction/Middle Grade Novel
GoodReads Summary: Merci Suarez knew that sixth grade would be different, but she had no idea just how different. For starters, Merci has never been like the other kids at her private school in Florida, because she and her older brother, Roli, are scholarship students. They don’t have a big house or a fancy boat, and they have to do extra community service to make up for their free tuition. So when bossy Edna Santos sets her sights on the new boy who happens to be Merci’s school-assigned Sunshine Buddy, Merci becomes the target of Edna’s jealousy. Things aren't going well at home, either: Merci’s grandfather and most trusted ally, Lolo, has been acting strangely lately — forgetting important things, falling from his bike, and getting angry over nothing. No one in her family will tell Merci what's going on, so she’s left to her own worries, while also feeling all on her own at school. In a coming-of-age tale full of humor and wisdom, award-winning author Meg Medina gets to the heart of the confusion and constant change that defines middle school — and the steadfast connection that defines family.
What I Think: I visited a classroom last week for a writer's workshop lesson. We had Dr. Carla España, a consultant from The Ed Collab in to work with our middle school teachers. As she was presenting, she showed students some of her writing and how she slipped Spanish in sometimes. A student I was sitting with wrote a goal of using more Spanish in her own writing. When I asked her if she had ever thought of doing that before, she said not until this day because Carla had mentioned it. It gave me goosebumps. How powerful is that? I love Meg Medina's books because she does a great job of capturing the experience of being Latinx in her books. But beyond that, she does a great job of description and developing character through her description. The snatch of text I pulled shows how we can learn so much about a character from a short scene.
As a mentor text, I would think about asking students to look at the snatch of text below, or another snatch of text from Merci Suárez Changes Gears, and ask writers to look at what Meg has done to show us who the main character, Merci, is. We can tell a lot about Merci from this snatch of text. I would make sure students recognize that she uses dialogue to show how Merci interacts with others and how their words or actions show us about Merci. I would also think in general about how the scene goes and what that tells us about Merci. Finally, I would look at word choice and how the words Meg has chosen show us the mood of the moment and how that adds to what we know about Merci.
Snatch of Text:
"I sit on the stool exactly the way the photographer says: Ankles crossed. Torso swiveled to the left and leaning forward. Hands in lap. Head tilted like a confused puppy. Who sits like this, ever? I look like a victim of taxidermy.
'Smile,' the photographer says, without an ounce of joy in her voice.
Just as I'm trying to decide whether to show teeth, a huge flash goes off and blinds me.
'Wait. I wasn't read,' I say.
She ignores me and reviews her shots. It must be really bad for her to hold up the line this way. Do-overs mean time, and everyone in business knows that time is money.
'Let's try again,' she says, trying to adjust my glasses. 'Chin up this time.'
Chin? Who is she kidding? I already know that's not the problem. My eyes is fluttering and I can feel the soft pull to the left.
'Look at the camera, honey,' the photographer says.
I blink hard and fix both my eyes on her lens, which always makes me look angry, but it's the best I can do. She shoots again and again in an explosion of shutter clicks. I must look as awkward as I feel, because I can hear the boys snickering." (p. 11-12)
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