Saturday, May 18, 2013

Starring Jules (As Herself) by Beth Ain

A grade 4 teacher bopped into my office and asked for books on peer pressure that were easy to read. Perhaps a picture book? she asked hopefully. I looked at her slack jawed and mumbled, "" She laughed as I pointed to my head and sputtered, "...Brain dead." Seems to happen quite a bit this time of year. Today I grabbed this book and HOORAH! it is exactly what she was asking for - okay it's not a picture book - but I read it in 1 hour. Yepperoo, I think it might work! Do you know what I love to do but find it can be like untangling a knot in a gold chain? Recommending books to small, medium, and tall-sized people. This time of year I feel like an auctioneer with all the book requests piling on my shoes. So step right up folks... this book is a winner! I guarantee it will make you want to sit down with Jules and have a fizzy ice-cream cone, her creative name for blasting air through a straw into a glass full of milk.

Jule's high energy is "lovely" and her tomboyish attitude make for an unpredictable character and plot. Charlotte, her ex-best friend, went to a fancy-shmancy hotel and came back with two new friends and wearing sparkling clothes and lip gloss. Jules wants to make swimming pools for worms so it's easy to see why the two are not getting along. When a new girl, Elinor, shows up from London, the two girls pressure Elinor to be her friend. Charlotte tends to put down Jules and make others laugh at her and when Elinor sticks up for Jules as others are being mean to her, it makes Jules feel good inside.

The friendship lost between Jules and Charlotte is complex and while the two have grown apart they have not quite given up on each other. When Jules has the opportunity to audition for a commercial and panics because of what she has to do,she seeks the help of a reluctant Charlotte, whom she knows can help her. While Charlotte has more or a mouth on her, Jules isn't always nice to others either, and when her fears of losing her new friend make her act paranoid and mean toward Elinor she has to learn to apologize and make things right or lose her new friend. This story captures the complexities of learning how to make, keep, and release friends.

The message of tolerance toward others who are different is also addressed in the secondary character of Teddy. He loves chemistry and calls Jules, "Julesium." Charlotte can't stand Teddy because he is so odd, but there are hints that she is also jealous of the friendship between Jules and Teddy. They spend time digging worms at recess and seem to have fun together. Teddy also sounds like he is ADHD when first introduced, "To me Teddy is kind of like a bouncing Super Ball. The kind that bounces so high and crazy you have to cover your head once you've let it go just so it doesn't hit you when you aren't looking."

While Teddy acts and sounds like a seven-year-old, I didn't think Jules did. She sounds more like an 8 or 9 year old. Her relationships with the others is too mature developmentally, but  it doesn't take away from enjoying the book. The humor reminds me of a female version of Stink or the melodramatic Anne of Green Gables when she was a tot. The writing is terrific and shows how Jules feels awkward about growing up. The brother is comic relief and the parents give sound advice keeping situations light and manageable with their drama queen. I love when the mom laughs at her fizzy ice-cream cone then says, "Now stop it." The right mix of Jules pushing things to the limit and a parent reigning her in give her experiences authenticity.

Jules writes lists and words are defined to help the reader. While this common trope found in children's realistic fiction can be tiring at times, I thought the author cleverly worked word definitions into the storyline. I particularly like how Jules learns what "primo" and "Roma" mean through meeting Elinor and hearing her father use the word often. I've been getting a bit tired of reading a book where the protagonist or some young kid looks up words in the dictionary and I appreciated Ain's creative efforts at helping young readers define words by weaving it into characters' actions.

Maybe I should book talk this novel by demonstrating to 4th graders a fizzy ice-cream cone. What a heckuva an attention grabber. I like it. Maybe I'll auction it. Howdy folks, step right up and get your fizzy cone. Ten dollar bid now, now eleven, will ya' give me eleven? now twelve? twelve? Going, going, gone! Sold for eleven dollars to the young lady in the sparkly shirt who wants a bit 'o fun with Jules and her gang.

Fountas & Pinnell P
Reading Level 5.4
4 Smileys

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