April 27, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Starring Tween Introverts | SLJ Spotlight

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It’s been several years since Susan Cain published her ground-breaking and widely popular nonfiction book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, but middle grade authors clearly heard the (ever-so-gentle) siren call and have responded with novels that prominently feature protagonists who sometimes fit, sometimes break, the introvert stereotype. A handful of titles reviewed in our April issue feature main characters on the quieter end of the social spectrum, like India Wimple, the star of Deborah Abela’s The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee, who overcomes her shyness to compete in a televised contest. In Through the Barbed Wire by Isabella Allen, the appropriately named Isla starts off as an island unto herself, but her unique connection to the natural world and keen observation skills help her solve a mystery. Then there’s budding bibliophile Flora Smallwood, from Cynthia Rylant’s Rosetown, who takes her time while learning to trust others and make friends.

Abela, Deborah. The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee. illus. by Aleksei Bitskoff. 240p. (The Spectacular Spelling Bee: Bk. 1). Sourcebooks/Jabberwocky. Apr. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781492662112.

Gr 3-6 –India Wimple is painfully shy. She resides in a small Australian town with her supportive nuclear family. Her little brother is gravely ill, money is tight, and her world is small, but India has a secret weapon: she can spell. When the opportunity arises to audition for Australia’s popular game show, The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee, India wants to go for it—only she gets stage fright. India’s family and community band together to support their rising star and, despite jitters and financial hardship, she overcomes the odds and finds herself in Sydney with other contestants, both friendly and otherwise. The colorful cover and cartoonlike illustrations in this Australian import will draw in readers, while the gently humorous and rollicking plot will keep them turning pages. India’s family is warm and slightly zany. In one particularly memorable scene, various townsfolk don animal onesies to make India more comfortable during a practice session. India stays grounded and hits her stride as the competition rolls along, bringing her to a fairy-tale conclusion that will satisfy readers who appreciate a tidy ending. Chapter titles contain a boxed spelling word with its meaning that describes the contents of the chapter ahead. This results in some sneaky learning and vocabulary growth, making this a great choice for school settings. VERDICT Humorous and poignant, this title will inspire readers with its kind, courageous heroine and may teach some new words along the way.–Kate Nafz, Fair Lawn Public Library, NJ

Allen, Isabella. Through the Barbed Wire. illus. by Cynthia Meadows. 106p. Brown Bks. Apr. 2018. pap. $12.99. ISBN 9781612549835.

Gr 3-5 –In this debut novel intended to be the first in a series, Allen blends a love of nature and animals with a contemporary rural mystery. Free spirit Isla, 11, spends so much time alone communing with the animals that she has difficulty communicating with humans. Homeschooled due to an unnamed speech difficulty and seemingly suffering from acute shyness, Isla studies with her father on their Texas ranch while her mother tends to Isla’s grandmother in Scotland. Isla lives a solitary existence, but she is not lonely. The animals keep her company. When a new neighboring family moves in, Isla makes a friend named Cash, who enters Isla’s world and draws her out of her shell. When odd things begin happening on the ranch and fires are set, Isla must work to uncover the culprit. The novel is plot-driven and fast-paced, but the mystery element is relatively straightforward and predictable. Allen empowers Isla to solve the mystery and save the day. VERDICT Recommended for purchase by larger collections in need of accessible mysteries, especially for younger middle grade readers who enjoy nature, animals and gentle realism. A great readalike for Penny Warner’s “Code Busters Club” series.–Eva Thaler-Sroussi, Needham Free Public Library, MA

Rylant, Cynthia. Rosetown. 160p. S. & S./Beach Lane. May 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781534412774.

Gr 2-5 –A keen observer of life with a passion for old, antique books, Flora Smallwood is increasingly worried about fourth grade. With her parents newly separated and the recent death of a beloved dog, this sensitive introvert takes small, careful steps to understanding herself and truly experiencing her own life. Flora’s journey begins with a new friendship and a found pet, both of which help refine her understanding and tolerance of change and trust in others. Her trips to the used book store and time spent with friends keep Flora reaching outside her comfort zone. As she slowly opens up to new experiences and others, Flora begins to understand that sometimes the future is not something to fear, but rather something to look forward to. Acclaimed author Rylant quietly draws readers into the quaint Rosetown through her expertly crafted characterization. The contemplative, examining eyes of Flora create an empathic lens for readers as they experience the community through her eyes. Rylant’s prose works to establish a slightly nostalgic feel, complemented by a leisurely paced plot, mimicking Flora’s perspective. While the writing style and plot work well together, younger readers more accustomed to fast-paced, action-oriented tales may lose interest. Likewise, Flora’s gradual transition will have readers craving and anticipating a major plot twist that never comes. VERDICT A beautifully crafted piece of writing that would be best appreciated by readers who value character over plot. An additional purchase for collections in need of gentle realism.–Mary-Brook J. Townsend, The McGillis School, Salt Lake City

This article was published in School Library Journal's April 2018 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Kiera Parrott About Kiera Parrott

Kiera Parrott is the reviews director for School Library Journal and Library Journal and a former children's librarian. Her favorite books are ones that make her cry—or snort—on public transportation.

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Comments

  1. Thank you so much for your lovely review of The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee. As a teacher and author and nerdish book-lover, I wanted to write a book a little girl who overcomes her shyness and anxiety with the help of her adoring family and small country town. This one’s for those kids who feel small and need that little extra help to realise they can be champions.

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