Friday, September 13, 2013

Book Review: Kelsey Green, Reading Queen by Claudia Mills (2013)

Kelsey Green is great at reading. Her best friends are good at math and running. In this first of three books exploring each of the girls' special talents, Kelsey's class learns that they will be entering a school-wide reading competition, with prizes for the best readers in each class as well as the best class of readers in the entire school. Kelsey desperately wants to beat her class's other star reader, Simon, but she always seem to be a book or two behind, even when she reads the skinniest books she can find on her reading level. To make matters worse, the fifth grade's star readers are carrying their class ever-closer to first place. The only thing Kelsey can do now is try to motivate the reluctant readers in her class to read more books, even if it means being a little bit bossy in the process.

Claudia Mills consistently writes wonderfully relevant school stories at both the chapter book level and the middle grade level. In this story for the early elementary audience, she demonstrates her keen understanding of how children compete with one another, and how acutely aware kids are of reading levels, both their own and those of their classmates. Most elementary school students I know are at least slightly obsessed with reading levels, so for me, this book has its finger firmly on the pulse of what is happening right now. Since kids like to see themselves in the books they read, especially when they are just learning, this feeling that the story is happening right now is really important. I also think Mills does a nice job of creating a flawed character. Kelsey might be the reading queen, but she has a lot to learn about compassion, patience, and good sportsmanship, including how not to be a sore loser.

Interestingly, it's not completely clear from the story itself whether Kelsey herself learns a lesson, but I think the reader definitely does. Through Kelsey's behavior as she tries to teach her classmate, Cody, to love reading, kids learn how to be understanding of the differences between themselves and their classmates, and how to use their strengths to help others, not to show them up in front of everyone in order to be the best.

This book and its companions have a place in every elementary school classroom, and they might be especially useful in those where heavy competition among students of differing abilities has become a problem. Read-alikes for this series include the Polk Street School Kids books and the Clementine series.

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