Thursday, December 15, 2011

When Life Gives You O.J. by Erica S. Perl

Zelly wants a dog so bad that she agrees to Grandpa Ace’s plan to lug around an empty orange juice jug as a “practice dog.” Can Zelly do it? Can she prance around town and not care what other people think about her? Zelly is new to town and her best friend, Allie, is off at camp. She doesn’t write and Zelly is worried. Dragging her dog, OJ, around does distract her but she wonders if Allie will make new friends and forget Zelly. Jeremy moves in down the block and they strike up a friendship. He offers advice for her mission to get a dog and he teaches her how to play tennis. The two also have to deal with a bully in their class. When Allie decides that walking an old orange juice jug is just too much, she has a fight with her grandpa that has dire consequences.

What a strange premise, but it works. The themes of sacrifice, persuasion, friendship, standing up for yourself, and fitting in are ones kids can relate to. The story is infused with Yiddish words and Zelly’s cultural traditions are nicely developed. Ace is a hoot and shouts when he talks because he can’t hear. The characters are well-rounded and developed and both change throughout the novel. I like how real Zelly is. She doesn’t always make the right choices and when she makes a bad one she realizes it and tries to fix the problem. Ace is also pig-headed and it’s easy to see how Zelly would lose her temper at him. The plot is well done and so is the pacing. I like how the author slowly reveals clues in the beginning that suck the reader into the story. It would be an excellent read aloud for asking students to make predictions. The reader doesn’t really discover the entire story of why the family is in Vermont until page 38.

One question I had was I wasn’t sure why Zelly, a 5th grader, would be motivated to walk the dog when the parents clearly aren’t going to get one. I think it would have been more believable if they always held on to the possibility that they might get one for her. I also thought Jeremy’s reason for getting a bike was odd. When I read it I asked myself, “really?” But these are minor questions that don’t take away from the story. The book is a wonderfully written story. I’m going to recommend it as a read aloud to a grade 4 teacher.

6.4 Reading Level
:-):-):-):-) 4 out of 5 Smileys

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