When you were a child were you confident or did you struggle to think people would like you, especially the other children in your class? I was a mix, though I generally thought of myself as not being likable. Thinking back on it, people did like me and thought I was worth getting to know.
The children in these three books have different issues to contend with and so I thought it would be of interest to you for me to talk about them.
The first book is about a confident child dealing with a catastrophic loss in her life and how she copes with it.
Harvey and the Extraordinary
Illustrated by Anna Bron
Miriam MacNeil, who is called Mimi, just knows she’s extraordinary and that her equally extraordinary father is absent on her birthday because he is performing in a traveling circus. Of course, no one else believes that, but then no one else is as close them him as she is. She lives with her real-estate agent mom and Dominic, Mimi’s older brother. She doesn’t have any friends and, because of an incident at school, she is staying at home. She spends a good part of her day with her paternal grandmother who supervises her schooling. The story is told mostly by Mimi, well actually all of it is Mimi’s account, but part of the story is told as if her father is the main character. Mimi is given a hamster for her birthday and she names it Harvey, which is her father’s name. She has shunned her former best friend because the girl doesn’t believe what Mimi has told her. In the end, Mimi does have to face the reality that her father is not coming back ever. But by then she has learned to reconcile this with the story she’s made up. Teachers and caregivers, including parents and grandparents, will find this book very useful in helping children deal with painful truths. The story was originally a play.
BIBLIO: 2021, Annick Press, Ages 8 to 10, $9.95.
REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan
FORMAT: Young Middle- Grade
The second book is about a Chinese/Canadian girl who is caught between two cultures. She was born and is being raised in Canada, but her grandparents and other relatives still live in China. They constantly harangue her to make her parent proud by studying hard and being accepted into a medical doctor’s university or some other supposedly high-paying career. Olivia wants to be an artist.
Living with Viola
Illustrated by Rosena Fung
Growing up is hard enough for anybody, but add to the mix an evil naysayer living in your brain and you despair might. That’s what Olivia feels as she tries to meet what she thinks her family’s expectations are. Her imaginary demeaning twin, Viola, constantly harps and snarls that Olivia won’t ever have any friends. Eventually, she does find her worth, but partly because her parents understand that she needs professional help. This is such an important problem for children, but also for adults since we all feel inadequate at least part of the time. In addition to this, cultural differences are discussed throughout the book, since the main character is a first-generation Chinese/Canadian. Her relatives who still live in Hong Kong belabor their expectations that she be a dutiful daughter who should want to become a doctor or lawyer or some other high-paying career. Olivia wants to be an artist. Some readers might find the depiction of Viola to be distracting, especially at first, but the message is strong enough to push the reader to finish the book. And teachers can use the book to spark classroom discussions on showing tolerance to those who appear different. The descriptions of various Chinese dishes that Olivia’s family eats are mouthwatering and the short glossary of Chinese words for relatives and foods is helpful.
BIBLIO: 2021, Annick Press, Ltd., Ages 10 to 12, $17.95.
REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan
FORMAT: Middle-Grade Graphic/Comic Novel
The third book is about overcoming the school bully and discovering your own worth even if you are overweight, i.e. fat. It is important for children to understand that their physiques are not who they are. I did have a problem with this book not gently trying to show the boy how to make healthier eating choices.
The Supervillain’s Guide to Being a Fat Kid
Twelve-year-old Max Tercero’s first day at middle school isn’t any different than his last day at elementary school in that he’ll still being picked on by the school bullies. In particular, the eighth-grader super jock has targeted Max as his special bullying target for the year. Max is not just plump, he’s downright fat. Nobody should be targeted for bullying on any grounds, but overweight people do seem to get the brunt of bullying no matter what their ages. The new school has strict rules against bullying but Johnny Properzi seems to get by doing whatever he wants to whomever he wants. The whole school seems to be afraid of him. Max decides to fight back in the only way he knows how. He contacts Max Marconius, a.k.a. Master Plan, who is now in prison for life, but who also has done some good things in his life. He is the nemesis of the city’s superhero. Master Plan writes back to Max Tercero and helps him learn to feel better about himself and take charge of his life. Max does make friends in school and does learn to change the odds in his favor. He even gets Johnny suspended for bullying and learns that he is a worthwhile person even if he is fat. The only quibble that teachers can address is Max’s eating habits. He is depicted as having waffle sticks dripping in syrup for breakfast at school every day. Even if he is getting breakfast through the school program there surely is a healthier meal for him to have. Max is a good-hearted soul who shares his food with his friends who can’t afford to buy breakfast or lunch. There are a lot of good discussion points in the book.
BIBLIO: 2022, Katherine Teagan Books/HarperCollins Publishers, Ages 8 to 12, $16.99.
REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan
FORMAT: Middle-Grade Fiction
Remember your self-worth and stand tall as you face the world. You’re worth it. Please let me know what you think of my post and/or life in general. Sarah