122 p. Amulet Books, March, 2011.
I was just so tickled by chapter one of this sweet, blank verse, debut novel for elementary/ middle grade readers that I must share it with you in its entirety:
I had a bad August.
A very bad August.
As bad as pickle juice on a cooke.
As bad as a spiderweb on your leg.
As bad as the black parts of a banana.
I hope your August was better.
I really do.
The poem is accompanied by a black/ white/ grey spot art drawing of the little girl from the cover standing sort of slumped. In chapter two, she explains that her bad time started the morning her parents came into her room and said, "We have some difficult news." She hates that, because the last time she heard those words was when her hamster Dr. Biggles got loose in their Brooklyn apartment building, after her dad left her cage door open. Dr. Biggles was never seen again. Chapter three reveals the source of her despair and her name, Eleanor.
In chapter three we learn that her beloved babysitter, Bibi, is leaving because her father is ailing and needs her help. Bibi, her babysitter for her whole life, the person who knew just what to do when Eleanor needed it, is leaving. Bibi. It was the worst news of Eleanor's life.
So this is a book about change and how hard it is. And, the book is lovely. It captures perfectly the myriad of emotions a child might feel and express, however imperfectly, when dealing with transitions, especially as she begins to make room in her heart for a new babysitter. The many spot illustrations, by Matthew Cordell reflect the mood of the text perfectly as well.
Eleanor is Every Girl. She's not a cynical, sarcastic, overly precocious kid. She is bright and verbal. While she's aware that Bibi is doing the right thing in returning home to care for her sick father, Eleanor is dealing with her feelings of abandonment realistically. It's also very nice that she has patient parents who are good role models, who don't deny her feelings or swoop in to make it all better. They know that only time will do that. They allow Eleanor to own her feelings.
The book would make a perfect read aloud for either a teacher or a parent. It's a snuggling kind of book that will make young listeners laugh and relate and think. When I checked to see whether Ms. Sternberg had a website (she does, click here), I found something that will warm the heart of teachers everywhere, a Curriculum Guide.
It's a little young for my population (I teach grades 5 - 8 and it's really best for grades 2 - 4), but it is one that I will include in my Summer Reading Book Talk for the PTO this Tuesday evening, post to Lemme Library's Book Talk Tuesday, and one I will recommend to my colleagues who teach second through fourth grades.
I'm looking forward to Ms. Sternberg's next novel. (And I finally have read a debut novel for my debut novel challenge!)