June 2, 2014
The New Girl . . . and Me by Jacqui Robbins, illustrated by Matt Phelan
The New Girl . . . and Me
by Jacqui Robbins
illustrated by Matt Phelan
A Richard Jackson Book/Atheneum
When the new girl comes to class, the teacher says to make her feel at home. Mia isn’t sure what that means but she’s pretty sure home doesn’t involve having a room full of kids stare at you while one kid calls you names. When she introduced herself to the class, Shakeeta said that she had a pet iguana and Mia wants to hear all about this unknown animal, right up until Shakeeta threatens to punch the name caller if he doesn’t leave her alone.
Mia tries to find out about iguanas on her own, all the while keeping an eye on Shakeeta who clearly still doesn’t feel at home. When they are both sitting on the bench while the others play soccer, Mia works up the nerve to speak to the new girl and soon they are laughing and talking about iguanas, which aren’t as big as scary dragons, and soon the two are on their way to becoming friends.
Lately, I’ve found a string of books that teach without preaching and this is another. Robbins has written a book all about bullying but she never uses that word. She just shows kids being kids.
Matt Phelan’s watercolors are light and airy and keep the story from being weighty and dark. Even the iguana looks a bit sillier than they really do with a slight smile. But the illustrations and the text pair together perfectly to create a story that is true, although it is fiction, in that it is so real but is simultaneously approachable.
This book should be in every classroom library and is an excellent choice for reading aloud and story times. It makes a great jumping off point for discussions on acceptance and friendship and just being kind.
Some adults will be alarmed that no adult steps in at any point — not when the name calling starts, not when a punch is threatened, not when the two girls are isolated. But that’s also what makes this book so empowering for kids and also so real. Kids need to see that see what kids can do. And, although adults don’t like to think about it, we are frequenly useless in bullying situations because we aren’t sure what to do either and, even if we do stop it right now, it starts up again the moment our backs are turned.
This is a story of two girls solving it for themselves by finding each other. No grown ups. No big solutions. Just friendship and kindness and hope.