________________ CM . . . . Volume XXII Number 23 . . . . February 19, 2016



Jennifer Mook-Sang.
Toronto, ON: Scholastic Canada, 2015.
159 pp., trade pbk., html & Apple ed., $7.99 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-4431-4267-0 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4431-4268-7 (html), ISBN 978-1-4431-4269-4 (Apple ed).

Grades 4-6 / Ages 9-11.

Review by Penny McGill.

**** /4



The big sign on the wall proclaimed: Sherwood Forest Public School Annual Speech Competition.

Oh, big deal. Every year, the students in grades three to six have to give a speech. And every year, I've mumbled mine as fast as I could and got it over with.

"So...?" I turned to Parker.

"You should go for it this year," he said.

"You're kidding me, right? Why would anyone go through that torture just to win some lame medal?"

"Because," he said, "you've always wanted one of
those, Jelly." Parker pointed at the display case beside the sign.

I caught my breath.

On the glass display shelf gleamed a brand-new tablet computer. I blinked. With accessories. There was even a Bluetooth keyboard and a fancy drawing stylus and – this was unbelievable – a gaming controller.

My mouth fell open.

That's this year's prize!" said Parker.

No wonder everyone was so excited.

Jennifer Mook-Sang's novel Speechless was so funny that it reminded me of the books I read when I was a kid – you know, 1970's Judy Blume – of Peter Hatcher and his little brother Fudge. The author creates a comforting world for her main character Joseph Alton Miles (known as 'Jelly' because his initials spell out the word J.A.M.) in an elementary school classroom with its annual speech competition. Jelly is in the sixth grade, and from the first pages of this book, readers will get the feeling that it would be so much fun to be in his class. He is a moderate student, known for being a good artist and is well liked by most of his classmates. He has one long-time best friend named Parker Brown (the P.B. in a P.B. and J.A.M. sandwich) at his school and the beginning of a crush on Parker's twin sister. When the speech competition with a sensational prize is announced and an obnoxious classmate starts telling Jelly he'll never win, it's hard not to feel as frustrated as Jelly does by her behaviour. She seems to be the only person who doesn't want to be Jelly's friend.

      Along with her remarkable good humour, the author, Jennifer Mook-Sang, packs many useful messages into this novel; she tackles themes like anti-bullying, friendship, the importance of honesty, volunteering in the community and perseverance in difficult situations, and she has tied it all up in the most relatable character - Jelly. Mook-Sang brings the school environment to life by including specific details of teacher and student interaction at every opportunity, and this serves to make Jelly and his friends more engaging as well. When readers see that Jelly struggles while trying to show teachers his best side and then fails in front of his nemesis, it builds their relationship and makes their classroom so much more true to real life.

      Jelly's home life is well fleshed-out in this story as well. The impressive prize that Jelly and his classmates are competing for is a tablet with all the extras for gaming, something that his parents keep an annoyingly close eye on in Jelly's opinion. His father, the owner of an electronics store, is concerned about the role that gaming plays in aggressive behaviour in kids, and so he uses this as a reason to limit Jelly's screen use. Even with the choice of prize for the speech contest, the author has found a way to layer in something to make Jelly's story a little more compelling. His parents are concerned about his friendships, his schoolwork and his plans for the future, and the conversations they have are very like the ones families are having every day around tables every night.

      The speech competition takes up a large part of Jelly's attention in this book and provides a great chance to get to know him while giving the reader the added bonus of learning about writing a good speech. Mook-Sang could have taken the easy way out and given Jelly and his friends a quick path to a happy ending. Instead, she gives the reader a fly-on-the wall view of the hard work Jelly has to do to make his speech the very best. He is determined to win, partially because of the incredible prize and partially due to the fact that he would like to prove to the classmate who has been making his life miserable that he can win. Making a speech has never been an easy task for Jelly, and so he works hard on all of the steps. Reading through that section of the novel is as gripping as reading play-by-play of any sporting event. Readers will almost cheer aloud for Jelly when he reaches the end of his required five minutes.

      There is so much more to Jelly's story than the speech competition, but it would spoil the delight of reading it to share everything in this review. It's amazing to look back at all that Mook-Sang was able to fit into just 159 pages – Jelly went through so much in such a short time! Mook-Sang's book is a true pleasure to read, taking readers instantly into the life of a grade six student who uses hidden strengths when faced with a mean know-it-all. At the end of the novel, Jelly is looking ahead to middle school, thinking about everything that has happened in the school year with the same quirky voice readers have been listening to throughout the book, and the author chooses to end Speechless with Jelly surrounded by a group of supportive friends. A boy like Jelly will always be surrounded by friends, and, after reading Speechless, you will want to be one of them.

Highly Recommended.

Penny McGill is a library assistant with the Waterloo Public Library in Waterloo, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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