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kid

parent

Will loves turtles but hates it when kids call him Turtle Boy. He also hates hospitals. So why does Will’s mom think visiting a kid in the hospital will help bring him out of his shell — and what if he’d rather stay in it?
Ages 11+
Pages 391
Publisher Penguin Random House
Coming May 2021
Awards
Junior Library Guild Selection
PJ Our Way Author Incentive Award Winner
Sydney Taylor Gold Medal Winner
Booklist Starred Review

Average Rating

6 Reviews
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What the Book Is About

Will Levine would rather hang out with his turtles than with most people — his facial difference left him with a problematic bite and receding chin, and the kids at school won’t let him forget it. As 7th grade starts, Will learns that he needs surgery to fix his chin, but he’s terrified of hospitals since his father died during a routine operation when Will was four years old. 

Will’s social anxiety has made it hard for him to stick with a tikkun olam project, which he has to complete for his bar mitzvah preparation. Rabbi Harris has Will visit RJ, an older boy who is hospitalized with an incurable disease. Will is not happy about this, but as RJ teaches Will how to play drums, the two become friends. RJ asks Will to complete the remaining items on his bucket list, including swimming in the ocean, getting drumsticks from his favorite drummer, and riding a roller coaster.  

In the midst of all this, Will struggles with his friendships, his relationship with mother, and his beloved turtles. But as Will tackles each item on RJ’s bucket list, he learns that life is too short to live in a shell. 

Jewish Content & Values

  • Will attends Hebrew school and is preparing for his bar mitzvah. Will and his friends are learning Hebrew, and Will practices leyning (chanting) his bar mitzvah portion throughout the book. Will and his mother celebrate Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. They say the mourner’s kaddish for his father at Will’s bar mitzvah.  

  • The Jewish value of comforting the sick (bikur cholim) is central to this story. Will visits RJ in the hospital and helps him complete his bucket list.   

  • Will’s commitment to taking care of turtles is an example of the Jewish value of tza'ar ba'alei chayim, the protection of animals. 

Positive Role Models

  • Will is a thoughtful, kind boy who overcomes his anxiety and fear to support a dying boy and become a better friend and son. 

  • Rabbi Harris is wise, compassionate, and supportive as he ushers Will through his bar mitzvah preparation, including encouraging him to visit RJ in the hospital.  

  • Even as he is dying, RJ remains committed to living what remains of his life to the fullest.  

  • Ms. Kuper, the science teacher, teaches Will to fight for what he believes in, including saving the land behind the school. 

Content Advisory

Readers learn early in the book that Will’s father died in the hospital during routine hernia repair surgery, and that this is the source of Will’s hospital-related anxiety. Will also has social anxiety related to his chin (which Will considers a deformity), and he is bullied and called “Turtle Boy” by various kids at school. Finally, over the course of the book, RJ becomes progressively sicker and dies just as Will is coming out of his own surgery, and Will struggles with grief in the wake of this loss.  

Talk It Over

A bucket list is a list of experiences and accomplishments a person wants to achieve before they die. RJ’s bucket list included swimming in the ocean, getting drumsticks from his favorite drummer, riding a roller coaster, and going to a school dance. What would you put on your bucket list? 

More for You

Bernard “Buddy” Rich was considered one of the most influential jazz drummers of all time. Born in Brooklyn in 1917 to Jewish parents, Rich joined his parents’ vaudeville act when he was just two years old! As soon as he was big enough to sit at a drum set, Rich snuck into jazz clubs to play. He went on to play with legends such as Tommy Dorsey, Count Basie, and Frank Sinatra, who funded and sang with the Buddy Rich Big Band. Much like RJ and Will, Buddy Rich never learned to read drum notation, preferring to listen to drum parts and then play them from memory. 
What the Book Is About

What the Book Is About

Will Levine would rather hang out with his turtles than with most people — his facial difference left him with a problematic bite and receding chin, and the kids at school won’t let him forget it. As 7th grade starts, Will learns that he needs surgery to fix his chin, but he’s terrified of hospitals since his father died during a routine operation when Will was four years old. 

Will’s social anxiety has made it hard for him to stick with a tikkun olam project, which he has to complete for his bar mitzvah preparation. Rabbi Harris has Will visit RJ, an older boy who is hospitalized with an incurable disease. Will is not happy about this, but as RJ teaches Will how to play drums, the two become friends. RJ asks Will to complete the remaining items on his bucket list, including swimming in the ocean, getting drumsticks from his favorite drummer, and riding a roller coaster.  

In the midst of all this, Will struggles with his friendships, his relationship with mother, and his beloved turtles. But as Will tackles each item on RJ’s bucket list, he learns that life is too short to live in a shell. 

Jewish Content & Values

  • Will attends Hebrew school and is preparing for his bar mitzvah. Will and his friends are learning Hebrew, and Will practices leyning (chanting) his bar mitzvah portion throughout the book. Will and his mother celebrate Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. They say the mourner’s kaddish for his father at Will’s bar mitzvah.  

  • The Jewish value of comforting the sick (bikur cholim) is central to this story. Will visits RJ in the hospital and helps him complete his bucket list.   

  • Will’s commitment to taking care of turtles is an example of the Jewish value of tza'ar ba'alei chayim, the protection of animals. 

Positive Role Models

  • Will is a thoughtful, kind boy who overcomes his anxiety and fear to support a dying boy and become a better friend and son. 

  • Rabbi Harris is wise, compassionate, and supportive as he ushers Will through his bar mitzvah preparation, including encouraging him to visit RJ in the hospital.  

  • Even as he is dying, RJ remains committed to living what remains of his life to the fullest.  

  • Ms. Kuper, the science teacher, teaches Will to fight for what he believes in, including saving the land behind the school. 

Content Advisory

Readers learn early in the book that Will’s father died in the hospital during routine hernia repair surgery, and that this is the source of Will’s hospital-related anxiety. Will also has social anxiety related to his chin (which Will considers a deformity), and he is bullied and called “Turtle Boy” by various kids at school. Finally, over the course of the book, RJ becomes progressively sicker and dies just as Will is coming out of his own surgery, and Will struggles with grief in the wake of this loss.  

Talk It Over

A bucket list is a list of experiences and accomplishments a person wants to achieve before they die. RJ’s bucket list included swimming in the ocean, getting drumsticks from his favorite drummer, riding a roller coaster, and going to a school dance. What would you put on your bucket list? 

More for You

Bernard “Buddy” Rich was considered one of the most influential jazz drummers of all time. Born in Brooklyn in 1917 to Jewish parents, Rich joined his parents’ vaudeville act when he was just two years old! As soon as he was big enough to sit at a drum set, Rich snuck into jazz clubs to play. He went on to play with legends such as Tommy Dorsey, Count Basie, and Frank Sinatra, who funded and sang with the Buddy Rich Big Band. Much like RJ and Will, Buddy Rich never learned to read drum notation, preferring to listen to drum parts and then play them from memory.