Thursday, June 19, 2014

Picture Book Review - The New Girl...and Me by Jacqui Robbins

We've been thinking a lot about transitions around here lately. For one thing, I'm in the process of transitioning to a new job -- as Collection Development Librarian for the library system I'm currently in. It's absolutely a dream job for me, made even better by the fact that I didn't have to leave the team of folks I already love working with. But as with all new situations it requires a bit of a shift in mindset and workflow, and so I'm between two worlds right at the moment.

Of course, Sprout's about to be in transition himself, as he'll be leaving his beloved preschool behind in the fall when he enters the big time. Kindergarten. I'm in total denial about this, or I was until preschool graduation last night when the director introduced us to the class of 2027. Yeeeeeep. That's a step Mommy's going to have to adjust to gradually -- good things we've got two more months at preschool to get used to the idea.

Transitions are rough for lots of reasons, probably the most significant being that vague fear of the unknown that happens to take hold when you least expect it. I had that in mind when Sprout and I read Jacqui Robbins' The New Girl...and Me, a library pick that we just recently discovered. The story follows a young girl whose class is welcoming a new student. Shakeeta is quiet; all she tells the class by way of introduction is that she has a pet iguana. Our narrator Mia wants to befriend Shakeeta, but she just isn't sure - it can be scary to befriend someone new, after all. Then an incident on the playground leaves both girls on the sidelines, and suddenly Mia works up the courage to reach out. And what she discovers is that sometimes laughter is the best way to bridge the gaps between us.

This is a thoughtful, sensitive story that's as much about being the new child in an already-settled classroom as it is about making friends with a stranger. I love the realness of the story, that there isn't any big dramatic scene but rather a small conflict that kids will really relate to. Being on the sidelines isn't any fun, and of course Shakeeta gets upset, which is what ends up drawing the two girls together. Robbins' skill in telling this story is the way she shoes the quiet strength of friendship, and how relationships can blossom even when there doesn't seem to be much to get them started.

And of course I couldn't talk about this book without mentioning the illustrations by Matt Phelan. At the time this book was done, he was relatively new to the kidlit scene, but of course now he's illustrated books by some of my favorite authors. It's not hard to see why, with his relatable, energetic style that suits the classroom dynamic in this story to a T. There are a few spreads that I find especially poignant: in particular, I love the one-page evolution of the friendship between Mia and Shakeeta, where Phelan shows us the two girls coming together in the space of a walk between playground and school door. It's a great example of the power of words and pictures to work together, the strength of all great picture books.

Making a transition yourself, or anticipating one in the near future? Check out The New Girl...and Me. It's older, so you may need to hit the library, but this is one pitch-perfect picture book that you'll want to read more than once.

The New Girl...And Me by Jacqui Robbins, published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Ages 4-6
Source: Library

No comments: