Thursday, June 30, 2016

Book Review: Sticks and Stones by Abby Cooper

I am participating in a group of Twitter friends that are reading, sharing and responding to recent middle grade novels. Hopefully, we will be able to find books that will excite the young readers in our classrooms and help us to teach important literacy skills and concepts in the coming year. Our group's handle is #BookRelays if you would like to see what we're reading and how we respond to these books.

It truly is an awesome experience to be able to read and share with other enthusiastic teachers these books that I know will be able to help us help kids. Up until now, I would read books by myself during the summer and then by the time I got back to school in August, I would forget to talk to others about them.

Sticks and Stones by Abby Cooper will be a terrific book for anyone that struggles with self-confidence...which is most people! All of her life, Elyse Everett's arms and legs have displayed the words used to describe her. Positive words like "cool", "awesome", and "beautiful" feel pleasant and even soothing as they appear on her skin. But negative words like "dork" or "loser" are painful and itchy. This extremely rare condition is called cognadjivisibilitis, or CAV.  Elyse's family moved to Chicago so that they could be close to Dr. Patel, an expert on the condition.

While she was really young and in elementary school, this wasn't such a big deal. She was shielded from unkind comments by her mother and her best friend, Jeg. But now that she's started middle school, she's encountering more social challenges and a lot more words are showing up on her arm. Only now, most of the painful, itchy words are coming from her own negative self-talk. 

Elyse decides to put herself in the running to become the Explorer Leader for the sixth grade class trip to Minnesota. This highly coveted position would certainly make her very popular and important and solve all of her problems. Right?

But she still has problems. Jeg is drifting away from her, she's dealing with lots of new classmates who aren't aware of her condition, and she's receiving mysterious notes offering her helpful advice for becoming the Explorer Leader. 

Abby Cooper really has done a nice job writing middle school characters and situations that are authentic. She has tapped into how these kids interact with each other, their teachers and their parents. Relating to the stress and the self-doubt that Elyse experiences so acutely becomes easier for the reader because of her attention to all of the minutiae of the middle school experience. 

There is also the focus on the words we use to describe others and ourselves. Most kids and adults have been socialized to not speak unkindly or call people names, at least not in their presence. But how many of us take the same care to speak kindly to ourselves? The painful, itchy results of each occurrence of Elyse's negative thoughts about herself forces her to focus her attention on positive action. What a great lesson for all of us! 

Hardcover, 288 pages

Expected publication: July 12th 2016 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)

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