Friday, September 8, 2017

The Curse of Einstein's pencil by Deborah Zemke

The first Bea Garcia book has been very popular in my library. I used it in a book club and the kids loved it.

I think they will be eager to read the sequel, but I'm not sure that I felt it was as strong as the first title. Bea is still struggling with the annoying Bert, who calls her bee names and her pesty little brother. She also still misses her best friend, Yvonne. But now she has hopes of a new friend - the amazing Judith Einstein who knows everything. When Bea gets paired up with Judith for a special assignment she's thrilled. But things don't go as planned - Judith wants to study instead of being friends, Bert is still bugging Bea, and her little brother ruins everything!

Bea may have the magic touch, but she needs a little more magic to fix things. Like, maybe Einstein's magic pencil. If she just had that she'd have all the answers, right?

The book is full of Bea's hand-drawn illustrations, from her brother as a frog to an "artist's conception" of a black hole. It's the perfect amount of illustrations for this age of readers, making this a notebook novel for the younger set. Bea is relatable and the other characters are fleshed out, from hints of Judith's personality quirks to Bert's sometimes over the top enthusiasm.

Some things that bothered me - I felt that Bea stealing Einstein's pencil and her feelings that it would make her smart were never really resolved. It turns out that Judith Einstein picked her as a partner so she could cover the imagination/drawing aspect of the test and they win fairly easily but for this age group I think there needs to be a little more clear explanation of the events and mistakes Bea made. I'm also a little skeptical that Bert's harassment of Bea is allowed to continue. Our schools here are pretty zero-tolerance on name-calling in the younger grades and I'm surprised nobody puts a stop to it.

However, these are really minor quirks. I love the diversity of characters included, Bea's ability to figure things out on her own and ask for help when needed, and how much this feels like a modernized Ramona book for 2nd and 3rd graders.

Verdict: Definitely add, especially if you have the first book. Fans will be eager to find out what happens next and see more of Bea's art!

ISBN: 9780803741553; Published 2017 by Dial; Review copy provided by publisher; Donated to the library

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