________________ CM . . . . Volume XX Number 37. . . .May 23, 2014


28 Tricks for a Fearless Grade 6.

Catherine Austen.
Toronto, ON: James Lorimer, 2014.
189 pp., pbk., hc. & epub, $12.95 (pbk.), $16.95 (hc.), $7.95 (epub).
ISBN 978-1-4594-0617-9 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4594-0618-6 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-4594-0619-3 (epub).

Grades 4-5 / Ages 9-10.

Review by Karen Rankin.

**** /4



Eric tried to break his ankle all weekend long, stopping just short of [wearing] high heels [and falling off a curb], but on Monday he arrived at school without a limp. “Maybe you could dog-pile my leg,” he asked his friends at recess.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Mr. Papadakis shouted. “Get up!” It took the boys by surprise – Mr. P usually spent yard duty on his cell phone.

“Eric’s trying to sprain his ankle to get out of the dance,” Nicholas explained.

“Don’t tell him that,” Eric hissed.

Mr. P frowned. “Spraining requires a certain finesse. It’s probably easier just to break it.” His phone rang and he walked away without another word.

“Do you think he has a real teaching degree?” Taz wondered.

Dave spotted Claire across the schoolyard. She was practicing dance moves with Andrew McFadden, a slender red-haired boy who’d just switched to their school. Andrew hadn’t said one word in class all week, but there he was laughing, spinning, touching Claire’s arms, and singing, “Five, six, seven, eight!”

Dave sighed. “We should work on a dance routine.”

“You’re insane,” Eric told him.

Nicholas picked his nose and suggested, “We could play booger tag.”

Thankfully, the bell rang.


It’s the beginning of grade six, and Dave Davidson’s school has planned a Back-to-School dance. Dave can’t imagine why anyone would want to dance about being back in school, but he changes his mind when he notices that Claire, a nice and popular girl, is looking forward to it. Eric, one of Dave’s three closest friends, is afraid to dance and refuses to go until his mom volunteers to supervise the dance and says he has to. After trying to help Eric learn to dance, Dave suggests a number of ways Eric might get out of the dance, such as with a sprained ankle or food poisoning. Finally Eric learns a couple of easy dance steps from Andrew, a new boy at their school, and the three boys develop a routine for the dance. It’s a success: “They were exactly synchronized, and their simple dance was the coolest thing going on in that gym.” Dave gets the credit for curing Eric’s fear of dancing. While Andrew loves to dance, he’s afraid of public speaking. In fact, there’s a Facebook video of Andrew vomiting all over a podium in his last school. Andrew asks Dave to help him overcome his fear of public speaking. Dave thinks of ways Andrew might avoid making a speech and, with the help of Taz and Nicholas – Dave’s two other close friends – discovers that Andrew’s screaming the national anthem sounds cool. Dave, Andrew, Taz, and Nicholas form a band called The Nationals. They sing only different versions of the Canadian national anthem, such as reggae, country ballad, rap, and O Canada Christmas Tree. Eric videos them and regularly posts their latest version on YouTube. Finally, on Dave’s suggestion, Andrew talks about the digestive system while standing beside a bathing suit-clad “teen rocker every sixth-grade girl adores.” Although Andrew’s speech goes hilariously wrong, he finishes it without throwing up and announces that Dave has helped him conquer his fears. Next, with the help of his friends, Dave cures a Grade Six girl’s fear of dogs. Then, while preparing for a futuristic science fair, he learns that Claire is afraid of the future: “‘I don’t like to think about [it]. Global warming? Pollution? All those animals going extinct?’ [Claire] shuddered.” Dave ‘slays’ her fear with a little help from his elderly neighbour. Claire’s outlook on the future changes when she realizes that she actually can make a difference. Dave and his friends’ next national anthem – written for the science fair – is about approaching the future with bravery and a positive attitude.

     Dave, smart and capable, but not overly concerned with execution, is a fountain of ideas. His parents are frustrated by his habit of dropping out of extra-curricular activities, such as football, gymnastics, painting, and piano. Dave admits he has a two-week attention span, but, when he agrees to take the dance lessons Eric’s mom has arranged for her son, Eric (who is not a quitter) she makes Dave promise to stick with them. Dave’s friends’ characters are also well-developed and believable. For instance, Eric is trying to cultivate an image of “cool, artsy intelligence with a dash of Asian mystery.” He likes making videos and posting them to YouTube. He is also prone to malapropisms, all of which Dave catches and subtly corrects. Taz, as tall as the kids in grade eight, is sincere, respectful, concerned and knowledgeable about safety standards, as well as passionate about issues such as bullying, fairness, and human rights. When Mr. P agrees to let the class work on an ethics essay in groups of four, Taz happily writes the essay at Dave’s place while the other boys play Frisbee. Peripheral characters – such as Claire, Dave’s bullying grade eight brother and his friend, as well as Mr. P – though more simply sketched, are also unique, credible, and engaging.

     Author Catherine Austen’s 28 Tricks for a Fearless Grade 6 has well-timed humour throughout and is guaranteed to make readers laugh out loud. It also has some unexpected and delightful plot twists as well as a subtly delivered positive message for today’s young people. Both boys and girls will be entertained by 28 Tricks for a Fearless Grade 6, a ‘companion book’ to Austen’s excellent 26 Tips for Surviving Grade 6.

Highly Recommended.

Karen Rankin is a Toronto, ON, teacher and writer of children’s stories.

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

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