by Aileen Hower
Vice President for Elementary Schools
I probably don't need to convince anyone to pick up a Newbery as a good book to read. But Merci Suarez Changes Gears, by Meg Medina deserves to be shared and written about as much as possible, especially after the fanfare of winning has ebbed a bit.
My first glimpse into Merci's life came when I read the short story anthology Flying Lessons and Other Stories, edited by Ellen Oh. Each story was completely different. I loved most of them for completely unique reasons. Meg Medina's story was about a brother and sister who attend private school on scholarship. Their dad owns his own painting business and has to paint the school gym over the summer. He gets the kids to help get the job done.
For Merci though, this painting job was... humiliating, as this gym was her school gym, and she didn't want her classmates to find out that she didn't live in a big home or own a boat like everyone else who attends the school or lived in that part of Florida seemed to.
Because it was a short story, Merci's tale was over before I wanted it to be. I was left loving her Abuela and Abuelo, but thinking her story was over before it ever got started.
Then the book was published. It was the perfect mix of sixth-grade angst, health, and school stresses, and wonderful interactions between family members, making new friends, and finding oneself. It more completely told Merci's story in a way that felt more personal, although I would love to follow Merci and her family into seventh-grade.
Get the short story to share with your class to entice them to read the full story of the Suarez family. Or read the short story to fill in a bit of background of the powerful middle-grade novel that comes next.
While Merci's story is fresh and provides an authentic window into her family's life in Florida, it is also an example of a strong, young, female narrative voice that is missing from many of our classroom libraries.