Expectations: Trouble Next Door (The Carver Chronicles 4) by Karen English
"So, what's the news?" Carlos asks as the boys make their way to the handball courts.
"It's bad," Calvin says. "The Hendersons moved. Harper Hall now lives next door to me."
Everyone's mouth drops open. "No way," Gavin says. "You're joking, right?"
"Remember the time he spray-painted bad words on the back of the auditorium?" Carlos asks. "I heard he beat up this seventh-grader because the guy looked at him funny," Gavin adds.
Calvin nods miserably. "I gotta stay out of his way."
Calvin resorts to ducking down in Dad's car on the way to school and sneaking out over the backyard fence to meet his friends, hoping to avoid Harper's eyes. Harper is the unanimous choice for biggest bully and troublemaker at Carver Elementary.
Calvin's dad says that the way he behaves, Harper must be troubled. Calvin thinks he is just plain trouble.
But Calvin has something else on his mind. The school science fair looms near and he's got to get to work on a decent project. And when he sees some optical illusions on the back of a magazine, it takes him a while to see all the images there, and he wonders what he can do with that. It's interesting, but for a science experiment,
he has to have a hypothesis and a prediction.
"I predict," he tells his dad, "that boys can see an optical illusion faster than girls!" My project is going to be the best, Calvin thinks. It's going to be awesome.
Then Dad surprises Calvin by inviting Harper to go to the movies with them on Saturday. Dad's hypothesis is that Harper has to live with a foster parent and maybe that is why Harper is always mean and mad at everyone. He needs a man to pay attention to him, his father says. Calvin is not convinced that Dad's hypothesis is accurate, but one thing is certain:
His cover is about to be blown!
But Calvin is surprised to learn that Harper's favorite thing is gardening and that his mother is homeless, living in a shed and working at the community garden. And Calvin's hypothesis about Harper being naturally mean has to be recalculated when he sees Harper's science fair project to test whether plants grow faster with music. Harper is not living up to Calvin's hypothesis that he is nothing but trouble.
And then, when Calvin tests the time it takes ten boys and ten girls to decipher the optical illusions, the girls win, going away. The numbers don't lie.
Predicting human behavior is complicated, as Calvin figures out as he finds himself happily heading out to shoot lay-ups with his new neighbor, in Karen English's fourth book in series, Trouble Next Door: The Carver Chronicles, Book Four (Houghton Mifflin Clarion, 2016). With the help of artist Laura Freeman's expressive drawings, Karen English's latest is a sensitive story about testing a hypothesis before coming to a conclusion. Who knew the girls could outdo boys so easily? Who knew that Harper's homeless mother was pretty and nice and working hard at having him come to live with her? English's short chapter books are well tuned to late primary readers, with a widening view of the world around them and a sweet sensitivity to her diverse third grade characters.
Other books in the Carver Chronicles include Dog Days: The Carver Chronicles, Book One, Skateboard Party: The Carver Chronicles, Book Two, and Don't Feed the Geckos!: The Carver Chronicles, Book 3 (read reviews here).