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Sunday, September 18, 2016

Gertie's Leap to Greatness, written by Kate Beasley and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki. Farrar Straus Giroux, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2016. $19.50 ages 8 and up

"Yes, yes, thought Gertie. She had never been asked to take a note to the office. Never. And she had always wanted to. Not just to taste one of the chocolates and experience that superior smoothness, but because she would've done an amazing job taking a note to the office. She would've gotten notes to the office in record time. She stretched her arm. Please, she thought."

There is a 'for sale' at the house where her mother lives. That sign sets in motion Gertie's plan to make her absent mother take note of just how wonderful and remarkable Gertie really is. It's not that Gertie is unhappy living with her great-aunt Rae and her dad. She loves them both very much; she just wants her mother to know, before she moves away with her new family, that she is "one-hundred-percent, not-from-concentrate awesome and that she didn't need a mother anyway. So there."

Gertie plans on proving that she can be the best fifth grader in the wide world. She is just getting started when everything she has planned is scuttled with the arrival of a new girl. Mary Sue Spivey is as determined to be the most popular, smartest, most noticed student in Gertie's class. It takes no time for her to have an impact; let's remember this is fifth grade and two of the main characters are girls!! It's not an easy place to be. There is no room for two at the top!

Mary Sue's bullying and conniving ways quickly force Gertie to ignore everything, including her best friends, as she does her best to make her plan come to fruition. Too often, wanting something so badly works to make us forget what is really important in our lives. That is exactly what happens with Gertie. As we watch her struggle with adversity and do so with spunk and confidence, we cannot help but admire her spirit. Her voice is so real, and compelling. We gladly make a place for her in our hearts, and cheer her on. Many of the kids who read this amazing debut novel will know exactly how Gertie is feeling. We all want people to like us, don't we?

Touching on themes of family, self-confidence, friendship, and bullying, Ms. Beasley has written a story that is perfect for reading in a middle years classroom. There is so much to love here. I have to hold back from sharing quote after quote, because I want you to read it for yourself and with your kids to choose your own favorites. There will be many. None maybe quite as compelling as this first line ...

"The bullfrog was only half dead, which was perfect."

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