Tuesday, December 15, 2009

REVIEW: Just Grace and the Snack Attack

Harper, C.M.  (2009).  Just Grace and the Snack Attack.  Boston:  Houghton Mifflin Books for Children.


164 pages

Appetizer:  After Owen 1 makes an insensitive comment about Sunni's lunch, all of the students in Grace's class have to spend a whole unit researching the foods of different parts of the world.  As the students pick their foods, Grace has some trouble figuring out how she feels about the troublemaking Owen 1, who has saved the class from having to research frogs, a topic Grace wasn't looking forward to exploring.

Guys, this book made me want to eat potato chips.  Lots of potato chips.  I didn't have any potato chips in my house.  It was torture!  TORTURE!

*Glances around*  In fact, I still don't have any chips.  The torture continues!  Why, oh why didn't I think to buy potato chips?!?!  I wants them.  I wants them now!


Moving on...

This is the fifth book in the Just Grace series and I'll admit the first book of the series that I have read.  While I was still able to understand what was going on just fine, characters were referenced with the expectation that the reader should already know who most of them are.  Grace lives with both her parents and a French flight attendant, named Augustine Dupre, rents a room in their basement.  Grace's best friend Mimi lives right next door.

When I first read the first few pages of Just Grace and the Snack Attack, my immediate reaction was, "It's like The Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  But not funny."  But to boil this book down would be unfair.  And mean.  I think making that immediate judgement of the illustrated diary-like account led me to judge too harshly.  Much of the narrative of the Just Grace series includes lists and small illustrations completed by the author, Charise Mericle Harper, herself.  (See her studio?  Such a nice space to work in!)  While many of the illustrations are cute, few actually add a deeper level of meaning to the text, but would (more than likely) inspire young girls (let's be honest here, a boy book, this is not) to include drawings in their own assignments.

I had difficulty getting into Just Grace and the Snack Attack.  Aside from Grace's tendency to make lists, nothing about her voice or characterization really captured my attention.

I also had problems with the plot.  Essentially, when the principal witnesses a culturally insensitive moment among two students in the lunchroom, Grace's class is forced to study the "weird" foods of the world.

As a teacher, I had a lot of trouble with Grace's class being given an assignment such as this one.  I had some trouble putting my finger on exactly why that was though.  Part of my issue is the fact that the book doesn't go deep enough.  There's a lot more to culture than just the foods people eat.

I also didn't like that the story created an idea of what was "normal food" (snacks like rice crispy treats, etc.) and separated out other foods as different.  For example for her project, Sunni decided to "keep a journal of foods that her family ate, because they pretty much ate unusual things all the time" (p. 58).  While in a classroom, a project like this could allow a child to have a voice in the room, but at the same time, it emphasizes how Sunni is supposedly different from the others.  It bothered me and the text never really resolved this tension for me.

Now, I know I've spent the last four...five-ish, paragraphs seeming to tear apart Just Grace and the Snack Attack, but the book did grow on me as I kept on reading.  Honest.  I started to like the emotional struggles Grace went through.  She worries about being jealous of her best friend.  When she is annoyed by Owen 1, she retaliates and then worries about whether or not she is still good or whether she is becoming a troublemaker.  When considering Grace's emotions, this book felt very real to me.  I can remember having similar worries last week when I was in elementary school.

Dinner Conversation:

"Some unexpected good things
1.  Finding money on the sidewalk.
2.  Getting all the worlds right on your spelling test even though you forgot to study.
3.  Meeting a famous person." (p. 1).

"At lunch today Owen 1 told Sunni that her lunch looked like worms, and that she was weird for not eating a sandwich like everyone else.  Normally this is not a good thing, and it was even more of a not-good thing for Owen 1 because Mr. Harris, the principal of the school, was walking right behind Owen 1 when he said it.  After Owen 1 got into lots of trouble, and after lunch was over, Mr. Harris sent a special note to Miss Lois.  And now for the rest of the week, we are going to study foods of the world instead of the insides of frogs" (p. 5).

"Somehow, having the comic be in a little book makes it feel so much more special than just having it on a piece of paper.  I looked at it about a million times.  This is probably what real authors do when they get their books for the first time.  When you work really hard on something, it's nice to be able to hold all that hard work in your hands" (p. 82).

To Go with the Meal:

Just Grace and the Snack Attack touches on a number of topics a teacher could pursue further in class.  Among them are food and world cultures.  Where the text falls short, a teacher can go into more geographical information about different countries and why they tend to eat some of the foods they eat (keeping in mind there's still a wide variation of dietary habits within each country, culture, even family).  Since the need for healthy eating habits is only briefly mentioned toward the end of the book, a teacher could design a lesson (and class party!) around healthy snacks.

Sticking with food for one moment longer, at heart, one of the messages of this book is to try new foods, something many second, third and fourth graders are still very unwilling to do

This would be a good book to share in a literature circle of students who have a special interest in arts and crafts and writing and drawing.  Since the book goes over the process of how to construct a zine, each student can create a story or research a topic to create their own zine (or paper booklet).  Students could also make paper or cloth dolls, as Mimi likes to do.

Tasty Rating:  !!!

To find out more about Charise Mericle Harper and her Just Grace series, check out the other blogs on this book tour:

The Hungry Readers, Our Big Earth, All About Children’s Books, Looking Glass Reviews, Fireside Musings, Green Bean Teen Queen, KidzBookBuzz.com, Book Crumbs, My Own Little Corner of the World, Reading is My Superpower, Never Jam Today, The 160 Acre Woods, Carrie’s YA Bookshelf, Everyday Reading, Cafe of Dreams

P.S.  In case you didn't guess, I received a free copy of this book as a part of the book blog tour.

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