CM . . .
. Volume XXII Number 41. . . .June 22, 2016
How to Get Awesome.
Nancy Wilcox Richards. Illustrated by Mathieu Benoit.
Toronto, ON: Scholastic Canada, 2016.
91 pp., pbk., $5.99.
Grades 2-3 / Ages 7-8.
Review by Penny McGill.
Saturday is the best day of the week. That’s because I have all day to do the things I love, like hanging out with my friends. Max and I had plans for Saturday. Big plans.
Dad drove me to Max’s place right after lunch. We spent two hours building a skateboard ramp. Then we got to do the best part: testing it out. We took turns doing jumps. It was pretty tricky. But after a while I got the hang of it! I loved the feeling of the board lifting off from the ramp. For just a few seconds, I felt like I was flying.
Grade three is a universally hard year for kids with the increased expectations from their teachers and parents. It’s like they are finally in the big leagues where the fun stops and they begin putting into practice all of the things they have learned from JK to grade two. When Owen comes back to school after a summer filled with great activities, he has big plans for his school year, including spending as much time as possible with his best friend Max and earning enough money to buy a skateboard, but his older sister warns him about how tough grade three can be when she says, “Grade three is the hardest year ever.” Owen knows that he wants to do as little reading and writing as possible, have free time on Fridays and enjoy cool science experiments during the upcoming school year. He really hopes that his sister might just have been trying to scare him.
At first, it looks like some of Owen’s wishes for a great year might come true with the new classroom as he has a new teacher and a blank slate. Although some of the teacher’s ideas are not exactly what he had hoped for, Owen does enjoy lots of free time with friends, starts a small part-time job walking a neighbour’s dog and gets the hang of finishing his increased schoolwork quickly so that he has time to play outside or watch TV. One of the school projects that Owen struggles with is a weekly writing assignment in which the students share something ‘awesome’ that is happening in their lives. Through Owen’s journal entries and the feedback he receives from his teacher, author Nancy Wilcox Richards provides a wonderful window into how frustrating it can be for a student to work through a project he finds challenging. It’s also a nice variation on a diary because readers see what Owen does each week and what he thinks might be important or ‘awesome’ enough to please his teacher. Owen’s diary entries develop through the school year with the suggestions of the teacher just as he sees himself changing through the book.
Owen started the school year with the intention of trying to have as much fun as possible and possibly earn enough money to buy a skateboard, but, by the time the end of the year arrives, he has accomplished much more. If ‘awesome’ is his destination, he arrives there in more ways than one: by surviving a big fight with his best friend, attending an overnight camp, volunteering in an animal shelter and working on a difficult year-long journal project. Owen is a tenacious and persuasive kid who has a grade three year that really isn’t always enjoyable for him, making it a very true to a real-life grade three adventure, and an engaging read.
Penny McGill is a library assistant at the Waterloo Public Library in Waterloo, ON.
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