by Dana Alison Levy
First sentence: “Eli sat on the wooden porch steps, crammed in with his brothers, while Pap fiddled with the camera.”
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Review copy given to me by our Random House Children’s rep.
Content: The typeface is pretty big and the words are simple without being simplistic. Also, there’s a hint of liking girls, but no real romance. I’d say it’s pretty happy in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.
I’ve been sitting here thinking about how to pitch this one (especially in conservative Kansas), and I think I’ve come up with it: it’s The Penderwicks, but with boys.
The similarities are there: a classic, homespun feel; a family of four siblings ranging from the cute young one (Frog, age 6, in this case) to the wise, older one (Sam, just starting 6th grade); simple, true-to-life challenges, rather than huge conflict; and a charming, whimsical feel that just makes you smile when you’re done reading.
The book follows the Fletcher family — Dad, a history teacher; Papa, who stays at home and does consulting work while the boys are at school; and their sons, Sam and Frog (who is Indian, by the way), but also Jax (age 10 and African American) and Eli (also age 10, but Jax is older by some months) — through the course of a year. As I said, none of the conflicts are huge and overarching, (except, perhaps, their grumpy neighbor Mr. Wilson) but rather small, realistic ones. Eli deals with a starting a new school for “scholarly minded” students and realizes pretty early on that he hates it. Jax deals with a best friend who is growing up and whose interests are changing. Sam is dealing with being on the cusp of teenager hood as well as the idea that something he discovered he likes — acting — may not be “cool”. And Frog has to deal with his family not believing him when he says he has a new friend whose name is Ladybug.
It’s a charming, sweet little book, one that I think will be able to reach a number of readers. In fact, the diversity of this one is my second favorite thing about it (my first favorite being the old-fashioned feel). I loved how Levy had a hugely diverse cast and showed how everyone is just. like. me. (Duh.) But she did it in such a way that wasn’t preachy. And I loved that.
In fact, I want to hand this one to all the kids and say: “You know that person who is different from you? This will help you understand them.” I’m not sure that will sell this book, so I may just have to stick to “Penderwicks with boys.” I just hope kids read this one.