Wednesday, January 18, 2012

One and Only Stuey Lewis by Jane Schoenberg, illustrated by Cambria Evans

In four short stories, we meet Stuey Lewis, who, despite his name, is a thoroughly contemporary child.

In the first story, Stuey tries everything he can think of to keep his secret: he's not a good reader. When his sympathetic teacher finally gets it out of him, she has just the right solution and Stuey finds himself gradually becoming an amazing reader!

In "The Great Halloween Caper", Stuey comes up with the perfect idea for a Halloween trick, but it almost gets derailed at the last minute, thanks to know-it-all Lilly, his class nemesis. Luckily, his teacher comes to the rescue again and Stuey triumphs!

Stuey gets worried again in his third story, when he's scared he can never live up to his older brother's soccer reputation. His teacher helps him see the situation more clearly, but then disaster strikes again when he gets stuck on an almost-all-girls team with Lilly! Will he mess up or help the team win a game - and does he want to beat his best friend's team anyways?

In the final story, set around the last week of school, Stuey faces his fears about moving on to third grade and he and Lilly both deal with their animosity, more or less, realizing it's not so bad to be nice to each other for a change.

My first thought on finishing this story, was, quite frankly, that Stuey's teacher "call me Ginger" has no life. She's not only working full-time as a teacher, she's always on the spot to solve Stuey's difficulties, since she handily lives nearby. However, it's quite possible she has time to do this since it looks like there's about 9 kids in her class. I've noticed many beginning chapter books idealizing schools in this way and it's a bit annoying.

There are a few points like this that felt unrealistic; as well as Ginger's 24-7 availability and the apparently small class, the kids are allowed - even encouraged - to read anything they want with no mention of lexiles, AR levels, or tests. Sounds lovely, but sadly doesn't match any school I know of. Stuey's name is a weak point also; I felt it was put in just to allow the possibility of teasing. I checked and Stewart apparently hasn't been in the top 1,000 most popular names for the last 12 years, so it's not a common name.

However, despite these points, this story had a lot of promise and has already circulated decently in the library. The fears and concerns Stuey deals with are normal, everyday issues, but don't overwhelm his life or turn him into a morass of anxieties. The stories move nicely between his worries dealing with various new things and fun activities and family life. Stuey's matter-of-fact acceptance of his father's absence "Dad moved away" will resonate with the many children who deal with broken/blended homes.

The text and vocabulary is age-appropriate and the print nice and large. Cambria Evans' black and white illustrations are a good fit for the slightly humorous but not too wacky stories and her characters with their big heads and round eyes are reminiscent of Peanuts and add a nice dimension to the text. Boys and girls looking for realistic school stories for the early grades will appreciate the gentle humor and calm way Schoenberg defuses Stuey's fears.

Verdict: If you find yourself needing more and more beginning chapter books, as I have found over the past few years, this is an excellent choice. Balance out the myriad of early chapters featuring girls as the main protagonists with this story of Every Boy.

ISBN: 9780374372927; Published July 2011 by Farrar Straus & Giroux; Review copy provided by publisher; Purchased for the library

1 comment:

KateCoombs said...

Have to laugh over your comments on Stuey's teacher and class--I've noticed that before, too! Under 10 kids because it's easier to draw, not to mention Superteacher and reading freedom. When I taught first grade, the only time I had that kind of freedom was when bilingual ed was canceled in L.A. mid-year and we didn't get new books till the next fall. We read SO many books, real books. That class learned to read and loved it!