With a little help from a caring adult, a child crippled by shyness begins to bloom.
Soon-to-be fifth grader Mattie is painfully shy, making the frequent moves her mother has initiated especially difficult. In the last days of summer, after she and her mother move in with her Uncle Potluck, the elementary-school custodian, he quickly recognizes both her talent and her difficulties and begins bringing her to work with him, where she records everything he does in her journal (since she's a writer). She hopes that if she learns enough custodial skills, she can become his junior apprentice during lunch and recess and so avoid the most challenging times of the school day. Meanwhile, she is studiously steering clear of Quincy, a slightly older girl visiting next door; in trying to avoid the social minefield of friendship, she fails to recognize that Quincy is a kindred spirit. As amiable Potluck gently guides her, and her jittery but loving mother comes to better understand her, Mattie believably begins to turn from her inwardly focused timidity to an eye-opening awareness of the complexity of others' emotional landscapes. Combining Mattie's poignant writing and interior monologue, exquisite character development and a slow, deliberate pace, Urban spins a story that rings true.
This outstanding, emotionally resonant effort will appeal to middle-grade readers. (Fiction. 8-12)Copyright Kirkus 2011 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Urban (A Crooked Kind of Perfect) traces a highly self-conscious child's cautious emergence from her shell in this tender novel about new beginnings and "small brave" acts. Fifth grader Mattie Breen doesn't share her mother's eagerness to pick up stakes whenever "the going gets tough." Mattie hates starting over at unfamiliar schools, but when her mother announces they will be living with Uncle Potluck, Mattie feels hopeful, for once. Uncle Potluck tells funny, larger-than-life stories--the kind of stories Mattie likes to write, but is embarrassed to share with others. Mattie hopes that Uncle Potluck will make her his "custodial apprentice" at the school where he works (and which she'll attend) and that this time she'll finally find a "true, tell-your-secrets-to" friend. Urban's understated, borderline naïf narrative gives voice to Mattie's many uncertainties ("Always Mattie has been shy. Always school had made her feel skittish and small") while expressing the quiet yet significant moments in her day-to-day life. Mattie's growing trust of others and her attempts to be "bold and friendly" lead to gratifying rewards for Mattie and poignant moments for readers. Ages 9-12. (Sept.)[Page ]. Copyright 2010 PWxyz LLC
Gr 4-6--Mattie Breen is a self-conscious and sensitive child about to begin fifth grade in her fifth school. This time, she and her mother are back in her mother's girlhood home with Uncle Potluck, the "Director of Custodial Arts" at the school Mattie is slated to attend. She dreads the prospect of recesses and lunch times--any times where she might find herself in unpredictable social situations--so she devises a plan to become her uncle's invaluable assistant. As he prepares the school during the last week of summer, Mattie accompanies him and records "Custodial Wisdom" in a silver notebook. She hopes to impress him so that he will want her help during the school day. Uncle Potluck is an intelligent, positive character, and he adds an extra heap of credibility to his many stories by referring to them as "hound dog true." He is a kind and sensitive example for his reclusive niece--a storyteller, like her. Quinn, who is visiting next door, and is as much an artist as Mattie is a writer, also makes a start in bringing the timid girl out of her shell. The most action readers will find in this story is Uncle Potluck tripping over a vacuum cleaner cord, but the characters are well limned, and Mattie's perceptions and observations add a tender dimension. There are many books that offer adventure and twists and unusual story lines. Most of them do not offer young readers such fine writing and real characters. That is hook enough.--Corrina Austin, Locke's Public School, St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada[Page 150]. (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.