Kate the Great Except When She’s Not

Meet Kate. Kate is a fifth-grader, a middle child, a girl who keeps a diary. In this whimsical coming-of-age story, Kate in Kate the Great Except When She’s Not (Random House, 2014) confronts the normal concerns of fitting in, friending the right kids and doing the right thing.

Kate is thrown for a loop when her parents ask her to be particularly kind to Nora, a girl she’s labeled as her “frenemy,” because Nora’s father is on an extended business trip and whose mother works a lot. But when an obligatory project ends up in an actual, authentic, albeit fragile friendship, Kate is forced to rethink her own assumptions about Nora and her own values. Kate reminds the reader that admitting you’re wrong about a person or yourself takes courage and humility.

There is plenty to like about Kate, and plenty of other sub-plots in this middle grade novel to appreciate. She’s a fine flutist who plays in the school band, a budding artist who has trouble drawing noses, a Girl-Scout-esque member who doesn’t love the new troupe leader, and an imperfect, sometimes-swiping sister. Her family is a creative bunch; her overworking lawyer mom and always fun novelist father get along swimmingly and lead their trio of girls in conversations about little and big things (with the help of questions and quotations in “Bob,” the Big Old Bowl in the middle of the table). Kate learns plenty of good little life lessons throughout the book both in school and at home; therefore the reader picks up plenty of good little life lessons as well.

Kate the Great Except When She’s Not falls into the new-ish genre of “humorously illustrated diary novel.” This genre is not to be confused with a graphic novel, which is a book written and drawn entirely in comic strip format. Think Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Dork Diaries. There is something light-hearted, fun and different about having drawings all over the page that definitely earns two-thumbs-up from most kids.

The drawings alongside (or after, or under, or over, or…completely covering the page) the text usually illustrate the author’s thoughts or actions. In my experience, most of the books in this genre have drawings and text that are related, and the pictures help draw out or augment a particular scene or idea.

Yet in Kate the Great Except When She’s Not, the doodles are sometimes fairly random, and I was left scratching my head for the connection between story and drawings. Or maybe adult readers don’t see the connections, and young readers—the audience of this particular genre—don’t need the connections. Maybe they find these random scratchings “hi-lar-ious!” in my daughter’s parlance without needing a reason for their existence. The book’s target audience is, after all, kids age 8 to 12, not adults in their mid- to late-thirties.

This is a fine book to give to a child in your life. It’s not one that you’ll keep on your shelf for generations because the themes and writing are so universal and phenomenal you can’t bear to part with it. It’s one your child will read in a long, lazy afternoon, chuckle at, appreciate, and then pass along to the next reading pal in their circle. And that’s not a bad thing at all.

Publisher: Random House Children’s Books

URL: www.RandomHouseKids.com

Available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Books-a-Million!

MSRP: approximately $13

Ages: 8-12 years

Readability: 3

Illustrations: 4

Kept My Children’s Interest: 3

Appealed to Advertised Age: 4

I Would Purchase for My Child: Yes

I Would Purchase as a Gift: Yes

Overall Rating: 3

All ratings on a scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high).

Kate Schwarz is a full-time mom and wife living in Great Falls, VA. In addition to being a reader to her three small children, Kate is a writer, distance runner, Crossfitter and blogger of raising kids with books at www.katesbookery.blogspot.com.

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