Friday, May 22, 2009

Just Grace Goes Green

Harper. Charise Mericle. 2009. Just Grace Goes Green. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Just Grace Goes Green continues the adventures of elementary schooler, Just Grace, so named because of the multiple Graces in her class. In this 4th installment of the series, Grace’s class is learning about recycling, and her best friend, Mimi, has a cousin coming to visit.

While there are some amusing parts, such as when Grace goes shopping for a birthday present for cousin, Gwen,

“Mom said that she liked the present I picked out for Gwen so much that she thought I should have one too. Mom said it wasn’t fair for both Gwen and me to have one and not give one to Mimi. Then on the way home from the store Mom stopped at a bakery and we bought cupcakes. WHO IS THIS MOM? It was like a shopping alien had taken over her body or something,”

other humorous attempts fall flat, or appear to be targeted at adults. What elementary school reader will understand this reference to the Vapors 1980 hit, “Turning Japanese?”

“I could tell what we were going to have for dinner the minute I walked into the house. Mom has this silly way of asking Dad to order sushi for dinner. … When Mom wants sushi she plays her special sushi song on the CD player. I don’t really know what’s called but the main part of the song say, ‘I’m turning Japanese oh yes I’m turning Japanese I really think so.’ It’s kind of like their secret code.”

While a laudable attempt, much of the recycling message comes across as too academic. In several instances, the author uses Just Grace’s recycling or endangered species lessons to itemize factual information,

“6. Red pandas are endangered because their homes are disappearing. People are cutting down their trees to use the wood and then building farms and towns where the trees used to be.”

A final criticism is the author’s choice of Just Grace’s final recycling project – promoting the continuous use of disposable water bottles, decorating them to make them more attractive for re-use. I realize that there is no firm scientific backup for the claim that toxic chemicals may leach from disposable water bottles, however, there is certainly a suggestion that it may be possible. Given the fact that so many other recycling projects are possible, why did she choose this controversial one? Additionally, by having the characters decorate their bottles with glitter and glue; one can only assume that they won’t be well-washed before re-use.

Perhaps if I had read the earlier books, I would have formed a better bond with the main character and been slower to find fault. Overall, I think that the Just Grace series is popular (the many sketches and graphics interspersed throughout the story are simple and cute!) and has great potential for finding a loyal following of third and fourth grade readers; but for me, this particular title falls flat.

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