________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 21. . . .June 13, 2008


The Secret Club. (Go Girl!).

Chrissie Perry. Illustrated by Ash Oswald.
Toronto, ON: Scholastic Canada, 2008.
87 pp., pbk., $5.99.
ISBN 978-0-545-99910-6.

Grades 3-6 / Ages 8-11.

Review by Lisa Hanson O'Hara.

**** /4


The Worst Gymnast. (Go Girl!).

Thalia Kalkipsakis. Illustrated by Ash Oswald.
Toronto, ON: Scholastic Canada, 2008.
86 pp., pbk., $5.99.
ISBN 978-0-545-99911-3.

Subject Headings:
Gymnastics—Juvenile fiction.
Self-confidence—Juvenile fiction.

Grades 3-6 / Ages 8-11.

Review by Lisa Hanson O'Hara.

**** /4



Pastel, flowery and very sparkly, even the covers of the books in this series are appealing to readers in the target age group. The novels, which have a very positive message without being preachy, are about girls with fairly common issues, often to do with self-esteem. The characters in the books seem real, with real problems and real feelings, and the problems are resolved in realistic ways, making it easy for readers to identify with the characters. Not only will young girls like these books, my 10-year-old son read them and asked if I had any more like them (although he'd deny it if you asked him, just because of the sparkly covers).

     In The Secret Club, Tamsin has moved to a new school, and, although she is pretty shy, she desperately wants to make friends. She is befriended by a group of girls who all wear anklets with the letters "SS" on them, and she theorizes that her new friends belong to a secret society. She desperately wants to be invited to join, but she is afraid that she won't be since one of the girls seems sometimes to be mean to her. However, when the girls discover a picture of Tamsin and the teenage pop star of the moment, Kayla, they are excited to welcome her as the newest member of their sisterhood, never guessing that Tamsin's brother photo-shopped the picture and that Tamsin has never met the pop star.

"Cool, are you getting the photo of you and Kayla?" Casey asked. "Let's put it up on the wall, and then you can tell us how you know her. I can't wait to hear what she's like in real life."

Tamsin took a deep breath.

"I've never actually met Kayla," she said.

Casey and Nina looked confused. But Tamsin noticed that Ivy was smiling.

"Then how did you get that photo?" Casey asked.

"The same way I got these photos," Tamsin said. She pulled out three pictures and handed one to each of the girls.

Nina took her photo and sat on a beanbag. Ivy took hers over to the window. But Casey stood close to Tamsin, her eyes glued to her photo.

Then Tamsin waited.

It was as though time had stopped. It felt like her whole future rested on this moment. Every part of her body was tense. She felt the tip of her dress-up earring tapping against her neck, like the ticking of a clock.

Then suddenly, squeals and laughter rang out all over the clubhouse.

     Tamsin has had her brother create photos of each of the secret sisters with her favorite pop star. The girls are thrilled with the pictures and not at all disappointed that Tamsin doesn't really know Kayla, the pop star. Later, Casey explains that the reasons she was sometimes mean to Tamsin was because her parents are divorcing, and, because she feels really miserable sometimes, she takes it out on the people around her. Because of this experience, Casey learns that sometimes other people's actions are not necessarily personal, and that she should have more confidence in herself.

      The Worst Gymnast is about Gemma whose favorite thing on earth is gymnastics. She has made the level six team and is being trained by Michael, one of the best coaches in the club. However, she is not very confident about her abilities and feels that she is the worst gymnast on the team, a feeling that is confirmed when she accidentally kicks Michael in the head during a handspring. When he assigns her extra strength-training, she perceives it as a punishment because she has to do it while the rest of the group are resting and stretching. Gemma is really excited when she discovers a jump that she really likes, one that she thinks she can use on the balance beam, but she doesn't tell Michael because he is being mean to her. She begins to practice but is caught on the balance beam after hours, a time when she shouldn't be there without a coach. Michael asks her to go to his office for a talk.

"Sit down, Gemma," said Michael. He sounded worried. "You can talk to me."

"Talk to you?" Gemma said quietly.

She still didn't sit down.

Then, suddenly, it all came out.

"I did talk to you. I said I was sorry!" Gemma yelled. "I said I was sorry I kicked you. I'm SORRY!"

Michael looked at Gemma with his mouth open.

Gemma puffed hard. "But it was an accident," she said. "I didn't do it on purpose. I didn't mean to kick you and I said I was sorry."

A tear slid down her cheek and she wiped it away.

Gemma kept going. "But you gave me the extra strength work and you yell at me all the time. It's not fair, I didn't do it to you on purpose, but you keep yelling at me."

That was it. It was out.

     Michael explains to Gemma that the strength training wasn't a punishment but was rather to help Gemma get stronger. He also explains that he yelled at her because it worked as she worked harder every time he yelled. And as they talk, Michael discovered that Gemma has been working on the special jump, and he agrees to help her if she agrees to work on it only in class. Gemma continues to work hard and is eventually rewarded when she wins best gymnast overall in the competition, beating even the best gymnasts on her team. Gemma learns that, if she had talked to her coach earlier, rather than fretting and feeling hard done by, she would have discovered that she wasn't being punished and maybe would have enjoyed her gymnastics classes more.

      The messages in both of these books are important ones and give readers examples of girls who make mistakes, have tempers, misbehave, but ultimately find their voices and tell the truth, including how they really feel. Despite the sparkly, pastel covers, the girls inside these books are real, and hopefully their readers will identify with them and learn from the lessons in the stories (whether they are 8-year old girls or 10-year old boys!).

Highly Recommended.

Lisa Hanson O'Hara is a mother of three and librarian in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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