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Just Grace: Charise Mericle Harper

Book: Just Grace
Author: Charise Mericle Harper
Pages: 144
Age Range: 7-10

Just GraceJust Grace by Charise Mericle Harper is an engaging book aimed at early elementary school readers. Nine-year-old Grace is in third grade. Because there are three other Graces in her class, and because of a misunderstanding with her teacher, Grace is called "Just Grace". She is not thrilled by this moniker, but she is stuck with it. Grace likes drawing comics in her spare time, and the book is sprinkled with her efforts (though these are nowhere near as extensive as the illustrations in Ellie McDoodle: New Kid in School). There are also photos interspersed with the sketches. Grace has a particularly fun running comic strip feature called "Not So Super (but still good)", in which she depicts superheros with "teeny tiny superpowers".

Grace has a teeny tiny superpower of her own. She says:

"My superpower is that I can always tell when someone is unhappy, even if that person is pretending to be happy and is a really good actor.

The bad thing about my power is that I always try to do something to make the sad person feel better -- even if I should probably leave it alone and not do anything at all. Dad says that feeling people's sadness is called empathy and it's a superpower because of the "having to do something to make them feel better" part. (Page 14, paperback edition)

OK, so this is a teeny bit message-y. But Harper makes it work by maintaining a light touch. In this first book of the series, Grace attempts to use her superpower to help a neighbor who is having problems. Things don't turn out quite as she expects, and she finds herself in a bit of trouble, but she makes a couple of surprising new friends along the way.

Grace's voice feels like that of a third grader. Here are a couple of examples:

"Mom said she was sure it was an accident, but I just know that spitting is pretty much an on-purpose thing, and it is almost impossible to forgive someone for something on purpose even if it was almost three years ago, which is a very long time." (Page 2)

"Sometimes I look at him and I can't help it, but I feel like I hate him and feel a little bit sorry for him both at the same time. I don't like it when the inside parts of you don't match up with what the brain part of you thinks. If there were a medicine to make this go away I would take it, even if it was cherry flavor, which tastes terrible and is not my favorite." (Page 31)

I like Grace's tendency toward adding run-on clauses to the sentences, and especially the understatement of "and is not my favorite."

Most of the illustrations are hilarious, especially one of a squirrel with running shoes on, while others, like one of a friendship map, are surprisingly profound. The style of the illustrations is consistent throughout the book, and the sketches feel (in a good way) like a young girl could have drawn them. They also remind me of Harper's illustrations in When Randolph Turned Rotten, a highly entertaining picture book. Grace also does a clever bit where she photographs a cardboard cutout of a cat in various situations - I think that this will inspire kids to try similar creative projects.

Recommended for early elementary school girls, especially if they like to draw or take photos, like cats, or have a popular name shared with other kids in their class at school. And if you happen to know a new reader named Grace, well, this one is a no-brainer. There are currently two sequels: Still Just Grace and Just Grace Walks the Dog.

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Publication Date: March 2008
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.