CM . . .
. Volume XIX Number 4. . . .September 28, 2012
Everything about third-grader Bernadette Inez O'Brian Schwartz is so modern: she aspires to be a Nobel-prize-winning scientist; she does yoga breathing; and, she is a member of a multicultural lunch group, The Lunch Bunch… everything, that is, except for her name, Bernadette. With such a contemporary character, it seems a bit strange that she does not have an equally trendy name to match.
As unique as Bernadette is, she is not immune to the typical perils of friendship. Possessiveness, jealousy, and resentment result when Bernadette chooses to spend time with her old friend, Jasmine, over the winter holidays, instead of attending a sleepover with her new friends, Kiesha, Annie, and Megan from the Lunch Bunch. Bernadette's new friends feel insulted, and even though Bernadette has not managed to sufficiently convince her parents to get her the puppy that she wants, she learns what it means to be "in the doghouse."
As Susan Glickman's second novel in the "Lunch Bunch Books" series, this novel feels like a didactic lesson in friendship, responsibility, and nutrition. Written in third person narration, Glickman casts Bernadette in the role of scientific know-it-all, especially when it comes to nutrition. Bernadette's one-time suggestion of a healthy lunch strategy for the Lunch Bunch triggers a month long Healthy Food Challenge for her entire grade three class, much to her classmates' chagrin. But with the same stable sensibility with which Bernadette is able to cope with her friendship issues, likewise, she is able to overcome the angry stares of her grade three classmates.
Bernadette is logical, decisive, and reasonable about everything. She volunteers to help an elderly neighbour take care of her yard, she knows the science behind good nutrition, she alphabetizes her personal bookshelf by topic and by author's last name, and with an understanding and resolve beyond her years, she is even able to work out her own (not-so-severe) friendship problems. Not bad for a third grader.
In fact, Bernadette is so exceptional in every way that, perhaps, she may be too distinctive and mature for her age to be believable or identifiable for younger readers. So it seems that Bernadette's only fault is that she is missing a character flaw. In any event, Bernadette's parents still show reluctance to get her the puppy that she so desires; however, if there were any eight-year-old who would be capable of being responsible for a puppy, Bernadette would be that kid.
In fact, Glickman's story is episodic, including two recognizable holidays in the school calendar: winter break, and Valentine's Day. The pace and structure of the plot feel balanced. The story is bookended with the scenes of Bernadette helping her elderly neighbour, Mrs. Marsh, and the climax of the friendship troubles is centrally located in the plot. On the most part, the language and dialogue seem age-appropriate, even when discussing Bernadette's science experiments.
From a teacher's perspective, this novel holds some utility. As a result of the blatant instructive feel to this book, it could definitely be used in the classroom to teach a unit on nutrition (i.e. it might be a great way to introduce a Healthy Food Challenge in your classroom), or more generally, it could just be a fun way to link Science and Language Arts together (for example, try the ice cream science experiment along with Bernadette and Jasmine!).
On the one hand, nothing bad could come from reading about the scientifically curious, eight-year-old, Bernadette. However, children going through friendship issues themselves may not find Bernadette's problems or solutions useful models for their real lives. Teachers, on the other hand, may want to stock this book on their resource shelf.
Dorothea Wilson-Scorgie is currently a Teacher-On-Call in Victoria, BC, while also pursuing her MA degree in Children's Literature at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.