CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 18 . . . . January 13, 2012
26 Tips for Surviving Grade 6.
Toronto, ON: James Lorimer, 2011.
166 pp., pbk. & hc., $9.95 (pbk.), $16.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55277-924-8 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55277-925-5 (hc.).
Grades 4-6 / Ages 9-11.
Review by Karen Rankin.
"It's too high," Becky groaned. "He's going to kill himself."
Crazy Carlos soared off the trampoline. He performed a flawless backward somersault. He landed firmly on the shoulders of his brother acrobat. The audience cheered. Carlos stood proudly, one hand on his hip and the other raised in triumph, his white smile and blue eyes gleaming straight at Becky.
In fact, everyone at the circus was staring at Becky. That's because she was jumping up and down, rattling the chairs in front of her, and screaming at the top of her lungs, "He did it! Crazy Carlos! You did it! You're alive!"
Violet yanked her into her seat and clamped a hand over her mouth.
At intermission, Becky spotted Carlos at the elephant ride. "Let's wait in line," she said, dragging Scott [Sherman] by the wrist.
"You promised Jason not to ride the elephants," Violet shouted.
Becky rolled her eyes. "If Jason were a girl and he'd seen Carlos, he would totally change his mind," she said.
"Is this your first circus?" Carlos asked when she and Scott reached the front of the line.
Becky – unable to speak or even swallow – nodded madly.
"I saw my first circus when I was eleven years old," Carlos said. "I went straight home to Florisburg and signed up for gymnastics. Maybe you will do the same."
"Sure," Becky said. "I dream about the high wire." It wasn't a complete lie – she really did have nightmares about heights.
Carlos smiled. "But first you want to ride an elephant, right?"
Becky's heart sank a little. She glanced at the sad old elephants walking in circles with squealing children on their backs. "No," she said. "I promised my brother I'd protest the animal acts while I'm here."
Carlos looked puzzled. "Where is your protest?"
She pulled the crumpled elephant sticker out of her pocket.
Carlos leaned close so that Becky could have kissed him, if she wasn't frozen to the spot in absolute awe. "Next time, you should bring a bigger sign," he whispered.
He reached behind a concession booth and grabbed two sticks of pink cotton candy. "These are for you and your friend."
Becky turned to Scott with surprise. "Oh yeah. Hi Scott. I forgot you were here."
"There you are!" Mrs. Sherman shouted from halfway across the ring, "Get out of that line right now! You can't go on an elephant ride!"
"Are you a protestor, too?" Carlos asked.
"No!" Mrs. Sherman snapped. "These rides are overpriced!" She grabbed Becky and Scott by the shirtsleeves and dragged them back to their seats.
Eleven-year-old Becky Lennox gets good grades, enjoys school sports, and fits in well with her classmates. She also has a 14-year-old brother, Jason. The school year is just a few weeks old when Violet Turnbull moves onto Becky's street and joins her grade six class. Becky tries to help Violet feel at ease in her new school but quickly learns that Violet doesn't need her help. In addition to being an excellent student and athlete, Violet is kind, cool, and instantly popular. Becky is envious, but, as the girls become friends, she learns that sometimes Violet envies her, too. When the girls go to the circus with a couple of boys from their class, Becky falls in love with Crazy Carlos, the acrobat. Meanwhile, Violet is developing a crush on Becky's brother. Becky eventually discovers that Crazy Carlos is married and that his real name is Ryan. After recovering from her broken heart, Becky is able to comfort Violet when Jason makes it clear that he's not interested in having an 11-year-old girlfriend. Over the course of the school year, Becky learns some practical lessons – Tips – about boys, family, friendships, attitude, and life in general. Tip #26 is, "If you have a sense of humour, an annoying family, and an open heart, you already have everything you need to survive."
Author Catherine Austen's 26 Tips For Surviving Grade 6 is a simply told yet fast-paced and colourful blend of humour and drama. Becky, Violet, and Jason – Becky's animal-activist brother, are well-rounded, credible characters. Peripheral characters – such as Crazy Carlos, Scott (Becky's "boyfriend" since kindergarten), and Becky's parents – though more simply sketched are equally credible. This book will certainly appeal to female readers.
Karen Rankin is a Toronto, ON, writer and teacher.
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