Armstrong & Charlie Review
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It’s all too easy to see someone who doesn’t seem to be like us—someone from a different neighborhood, a different social standing, a different country—and write him or her off. But in Armstrong & Charlie, a kids’ novel inspired by true events, author Steven B. Frank encourages readers to take the time to look beyond the surface.

The story takes place in Los Angeles in 1974. As a new school year begins, Charlie finds that he’ll be starting sixth grade without his neighborhood friends. They’re all switching schools, since his school is one of those allowing Opportunity Busing in an attempt to desegregate the school system. One of the kids joining his class is Armstrong, a tough kid who has no interest in going to a white school. And when Armstrong and Charlie are seated next to each other, the sparks begin to fly between two rivals who have more in common than they realize.

In a time when the need to teach children about understanding and acceptance seems more important than ever, Armstrong & Charlie tells a memorable story about two kids who eventually learn to overcome their differences and their own insecurities.

The two main characters may have different colored skin—and they may come from different neighborhoods—but each one struggles with his own fears and anxieties. Armstrong is definitely an outsider at his new school, and as the youngest child with five older sisters, he’s always had a chip on his shoulder. He’s been known to pick fights at his old school—which is why his parents wanted to give him a fresh start. But while he may seem tough, he’s really just nervous and unsure of himself.

Charlie is a timid Jewish kid whose family fell apart after the death of his older brother. He’s always been one to play by the rules, and the new kid in school seems to challenge everything—so, of course, they become instant adversaries, clashing in ways that are often amusing.

At times, though, each of these boys can be hurtful and unkind. They’re not always likable characters. Still, there’s more to these kids than just Charlie’s by-the-book attitude and Armstrong’s tough exterior. Deep down, Charlie has a good heart—one that’s still grieving. And Armstrong is struggling to fit into a school where he doesn’t feel like he belongs. And as they slowly begin to understand and accept each other more, their rivalry turns into a heartwarming story about a friendship that crosses cultural, historical, and racial lines.

It may take place in the 1970s, but Armstrong & Charlie tells a story that’s as important now as it was then. In reading it, kids will learn a little bit of history, and they may also come away with a new attitude toward the kids around them who may seem different.

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