Book Review: 28 Tricks for a Fearless Grade 6

IndexTitle: 28 Tricks for a Fearless Grade 6

Author: Catherine Austen

Publisher: James Lorimer & Company Ltd.

Year: 2014

Pages: 101 (e-book)

Author Page: Catherine Austen

Author Blog: Deadline? What Deadline?

[Disclaimer: I am required by some law of the land to inform you that the FCC thinks you will be better off knowing that I read a free copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. Wow, I feel better having gotten that off my chest.]

I grew up reading Judy Blume whose books for children were, at least when I was reading Blubber and Superfudge and Frecklejuice, at the pinnacle of elementary-junior high reading. Not a single RIF week or Scholastic book club paper went by that someone in our class failed to get a Judy Blume book. In fact, I still happen to own many of those books that I bought in fourth and fifth grades. Now I'm 44 and I still love books that are targeted to kids who are in the 'awkward' stages of life–namely, 5-8 grade. So I was pleased when I was offered the opportunity to read 28 Tricks and review it.
When I was in those awkward Junior High days, I remember having fears. I feared things like bullies, my parents' wrath for poor grades, and acne. In 28 Tricks, the fears are a little more subjective: fear of dancing, fear of public speaking, fear of dogs, and a fear of the future. When I was young, I was generally too busy to worry about whether or not the future was something I should worry about, but then again when I was that age we were not having conversations about things like global warming. In the 80s, we were worried about things like the spread of communism and the proliferation of nuclear arms–but we were also not watching nearly as much television, there was no internet, and there were no cell phones. We were outside playing ball, hide and seek, or swimming in the creek.
I suppose every generation has to have their fears. This is about as political as the author gets in the book (and it wasn't as bad as I'm probably making it); nevertheless, these are the things that kids worry about nowadays and the author's background in environmental and conservation studies  probably helped shape the last section of the book. It's not  offensive or rammed down the readers' throats and I think it rightfully helps walk children, who may have such fears, through some of those fears and get a good grip in the here and now.
And I appreciated this: "Too much reality makes you depressed. But not enough reality makes you a fool. So what we need is just enough reality to manage." This from one of the characters named Claire who has been learning to overcome her fear of the future. There are other insightful thoughts along the way too, but I don't want to spoil the fun. I agree with the author that living now, giving up worry, having hope, and not wasting our time is essential to a wholesome, productive, and less fearful life. These are deep thoughts for Junior High students to absorb and it is far and away from the sorts of worries we were talking about when we read Blubber and Otherwise Known as Shelia the Great.
I also appreciated the teacher, Mr. Papadakis. First of all because he is a male teacher. I have this suspicion that there are not nearly enough male teachers in schools today–especially in elementary and junior high. It was nice to see a positive male figure–even if he did remind me a wee bit of Ms. Frizzle with his carefree-let-the-children-learn kind of approach to education. I also thought he was a sympathetic character. His character wasn't intrusive, but he was present. This left the author free to pull him in periodically to dispense some wisdom or humor or reality: male teachers can provide positive links between students and life and need not always be those frowning curmudgeons who haunt our sleep at times.
Finally, I enjoyed the flow of the text: it was funny. Even to me, as an adult, I found the book chock full of humor–and more often than not, good humor. I especially enjoyed the malaprops that showed up every so often. I also found the humor wasn't quite as acerbic as what I used to read when I was kid. It had a softer touch to it which made it more palatable and enjoyable. The running gag featuring the Canadian national anthem was good times too–and it would be funny if readers could go on youtube and find links to some of the songs Dave and his band invented.
I'm sticking with a positive review of this book because I really believe children will enjoy it. It's a quick read, it's funny, but it's not a throwaway book. By that I mean, this is a book that can be re-read with a certain satisfaction–maybe to explore some of the subplots about things like bullying and telling the truth and simply being nice to our friends.
I am hopeful this book will get a wide audience because it is good fun and a good, thoughtful story.
5/5 Stars

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