Book Review and Pairing: Playground

title: Playground

author: Fifty Cent

date: Razorbill; November 2011

main character: Burton “Butterball”

Reading Level: 5.0

I think I’ve done some pretty good book pairings here on CrazyQuiltEdi Blog. After a recent session at ALAN, I’ve come to realize there are many, many ways to pair books. In addition to book pairings, bloggers often pair books with cities and music. At ALAN, I realized books can be paired with works of art! And why not beverages? Foods? Games? I hope to start something new here by creating some rather unusual book parents that can be used to relate stories to readers in new ways. Today, I’m doing it with Playground.

Curtis ‘Fifty Cent’ Jackson’s first book From Pieces to Weight was written in 2006. A year later, he entered the publishing with his imprint, G-Unit Books where he quickly co-wrote The Ski Mask and the 50th Law. The message he delivered in these books and in his song lyrics is quite different from the message in Playground. Did 50 Cent really write this on his own? All I know is that whoever wrote it will be going ‘straight to the bank’.

We first see Butterball as he meets the counselor he’s been required to visit so that he can stay in school.  He’s not giving up a thing to this lady who is obviously quite square. He will not tell her how little regard he has for his mother, why he beat Maurice or how he feels about anything. We do learn that Butterball blames his mother for everything wrong with his life and makes excuses for everything his father does. He’s a very real young male character who struggles with so much pain in understanding the world around him that until people who cared about him reached out to him, he would lash out at anyone who got in his way. This is one of the rare books where you realize the character is just a child, just a child trying to figure things out.

While we are inside Butterball’s head in this first person narrative, his revelations though subtle are quite clear as they often are when we’re figuring life out. It’s just short of masterful, the way we’re intellectually guided through Butterball’s growth process.

My pairing for this book was so obvious to me: my mom’s Butterball cookies. In the book, Butterball’s mom was a crucial part of his life, both in his early destructive days and in his transformation. He claimed the name ‘Butterball’ just like young people claim the n-word, hoping to disarm those who used it against him.

I’ve always called these cookies Butterballs, though most people call them Mexican Wedding Cakes.  (Honestly, I don’t think they’re the same recipe.) These are the only cookies my sister and I can remember my mom making, so they’re pretty special to me, as Butterball was to his mom.

How to use this with young readers?

Pre-reading: Bake the cookies with the students and talk about relationships with moms. You can encourage students to talk about their relationships with their own moms but if you know this is going to be painful, talk about moms on television.

post reading: read the recipe for Butterball cookies with the students then, ask them what ingredients make up Butterball the person.

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8 thoughts on “Book Review and Pairing: Playground

  1. I was very disappointed that this had so much objectionable vocabulary in it. Just couldn’t justify having it at the middle school level, although my students do really like inner city stories.

  2. I was also surprised at the language in what is clearly meant to be a middle school book. I had a hard time setting the interest level on it (for my employer’s database–I’m a librarian at a book distributor), but I ended up going with grades 7-9. I did like the book though.

  3. I’ve realized before that I read way too much YA and have become desensitized to many situations. I really didn’t notice the language. 7-9 sounds about right, possibly even some 10th graders would enjoy the book.

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