Review Detail

Kids Fiction 251
Challenges with Optimism
Overall rating 
 
5.0
Plot/Characters/Writing Style 
 
5.0
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable) 
 
N/A
Ellie and her mother live in Nashville; her father left when she was young and has another family. Ellie loves baking, and gets along okay at school. She has an aide who helps her navigate with her wheelchair, but Lauren is also another level of supervision that makes it really hard to get away with any misbehavior. After a recent incident at school, Ellie is expecting to get in trouble with her mom, but a lot of other things are going on. On the bright side, Ellie's neurologist agrees she can be taken off seizure medication, but on the not-so-bright side, her grandfather's behavior has become very erratic. Ellie and her mother go to visit them for Christmas, not telling her Memaw that they plan on staying. Ellie will enroll in the local school in Oklahoma, and her mother is taking a leave of absence from her teaching job and will substitute. Memaw's not too happy, but realizes that she needs help. The trailer in which they live is small, and it's a bit hard for Ellie to go about her daily tasks, so she needs more help from her mother. She manages to get away with not having an aide at school, and makes friends with two neighbors, Coralee and Bert. Both are a bit quirky, but Ellie enjoys their company, and feels odd that for once, it's not her wheelchair that sets her apart, it's the fact that she lives in a trailer park! As she spends more time with her grandparents and new friends, Ellie begins to realize that she prefers to be in Oklahoma rather than in Nashville, where she felt lonely. Will her mother decide that they need to return "home" once the grandparents have a plan for going forward?
Good Points
I really believe that most middle school students are more curious about differences than mean about them, and Coralee and Bert both evidence this in their treatment of Ellie. Ellie herself is very matter of fact about what she can and can't do, and there is enough description about the help she needs to enlighten readers who have never encountered someone in a wheelchair. While the move necessitates some discussion of her wheelchair use, this is a book about the family dynamics and the grandfather's Alzheimer's as well as settling in to a new community. It was fast-paced, fun to read, and included a lot of good baking descriptions. The cover is appealing, and I can see this being a popular book with my students.

The grandfather's dementia is a great addition to this story.

This hit the sweet spot on a lot of levels-- Ellie is pragmatic but not noble, her mother is concerned but proactive, and the grandparents are aware of their situation and actively looking for a solution. There are a lot of problem novels for middle grade readers, and I've given up complaining about them; I am just glad when we see problem novels that model a positive way forward. Ellie is a great example of how to "roll with it" in a positive manner.
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