Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

A little girl on a mission: Gertie’s Leap to Greatness

gerties-leapGertie’s Leap to Greatness, by Kate Beasley/Illustrated by Jillian Tamaki, (Oct. 2016, Macmillan), $16.99, ISBN: 9780374302610

Recommended for ages 8-12

Gertie Reece Foy is a fifth grader on a mission. She lives in Alabama with her dad, who works on an oil rig, and her great-aunt, who loves her to pieces. But Gertie’s on a mission to be the GREATEST fifth grader: she’s got quite a few plans. See, she wants to go up to her absentee mother – who lives in the same town – and let her know that she didn’t need her after all. Only one thing is standing in Gertie’s way, and that’s the new girl, Mary Sue Spivey. Mary Sue has a Hollywood director daddy and seems to have the world on a string, and she and Gertie do not hit it off at all.

This is a quick read that middle graders will enjoy. Caldecott Honor artist Jillian Tamaki’s (This One Summer) illustrations really bring a gentle life to the characters, particularly the headstrong Gertie, who takes a little bit to love, no lie. Like most middle grade protagonists, she can get a bit caught up in herself, especially considering her circumstances. Her mom abandoned her family when Gertie was just a baby, yet lives in the same town. Gertie passes her mother’s house on the bus route to school every day, and by some crazy happenstance, she and Aunt Rae only bumped into her mother once while grocery shopping at the Piggly Wiggly. I was confused as to why someone would abandon her husband and child, yet stay in the same neighborhood to continue on with her life.

Gertie becomes much more sympathetic when Mary Sue’s mean girl act kicks into high gear. Mary Sue is a truly awful mean girl. The author tried to soften her and make her  more human at the end, but I wasn’t having it, nor was I having what appeared, to me, her mother sanctioning Mary Sue and her new mean girl clique’s behavior in targeting Gertie via a “Clean Earth Club” (Gertie’s dad works on an oil rig, and Mary Sue’s mom is an environmental lobbyist.) There’s some good diversity in the book, as you’ll see in the illustrations and the descriptions of some characters.

Entertainment Weekly is calling Gertie the “next Ramona Quimby”, and that’s a great starting point for display and booktalk/readalikes. Gertie’s Leap to Greatness is a good middle grade addition to collections where realistic fiction is popular. A story thread about oil rigs and the environment provides some good discussion topics.

There’s a Gertie webpage that offers some of Gertie’s Tips for Greatness, and illustrator Jillian Tamaki’s webpage has more artwork to enjoy.


Some pages from Gertie’s Leap to Greatness, courtesy of Macmillan:


Posted in Uncategorized

The Last Boy at St. Edith’s wants OUT!

last boyThe Last Boy at St. Edith’s, by Lee Gjersten Malone (Feb. 2016, Aladdin), $16.99, ISBN: 9781481444354

Recommended for ages 8-12

Seventh-grader, Jeremy, is not thrilled. His school, St. Edith’s, was formerly an all-girls’ school that briefly admitted boys, but it never quite caught on. He’s been counting down the number of boys leaving the school, until Andrew – #2 on his list – announced he was leaving, making Jeremy the last boy at St. Edith’s. It’s embarrassing and it’s really annoying, but his mom, who works at the school so he and his sisters can go for free, will not even consider letting him go to the local public school. Desperate, Jeremy decides to take matters into his own hands: he’s going to get expelled.

Turning to his best friend, Claudia, the two come up with a series of pranks that should do the trick. Jeremy has rules: no one gets embarrassed or hurt, and no permanent damage gets done. But the mysterious prankster’s first gag gets huge laughs, and Jeremy finds himself caught in the snowballing effect of pranking; he’s got to up the ante, but things start getting out of control. How far will Jeremy go to get thrown out?

I LOVED this book. Jeremy has a distinct voice that comes through loud and clear, and he’s got some valid arguments: he’s the butt of other school’s jokes; his own school’s teachers refer to the student body as “ladies”, so he feels humiliated in his own environment; his mother, however valid her reasons are for keeping him at St. Edith’s, is too stressed out to really listen and understand Jeremy; and his flaky tree-hugging dad is not there for him at all. He still manages to keep a sense of humor about him, and he’s a likable kid. He’s a good kid from a good family who just wants one thing to go his way, and he’s got a conscience – whether he always listens to it remains to be seen.

There are plenty of social and family issues addressed in this seemingly light read: family relationships; divorce; social classes; gender roles; friendship, and consequences. The Last Boy at St. Edith’s deserves a spot on summer reading lists, for sure. I’ll be putting together some discussion questions and a booktalk to generate interest in this great debut.

The Last Boy at St. Edith’s has received a starred review from Kirkus Reviews. You can visit Ms. Malone’s author website for more information about her, including links to social media and information on school and library visits.