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Review of First Grade Dropout

vernick_first grade dropout2First Grade Dropout
by Audrey Vernick; 
illus. by Matthew Cordell
Primary   Clarion   32 pp.
7/15   978-0-544-12985-6   $16.99

“I can’t stop thinking about it. How everyone laughed and slapped their desks and stomped their feet. And pointed. At me.” The narrator’s social infraction? “I. Called. My. Teacher. MOMMY!!!” It’s a typical-enough blunder among kids new to school (“Don’t worry. It happens every year,” tosses off the boy’s teacher), but what kid in any new situation feels typical? Having suffered what he perceives as landmark mortification, the narrator concludes that dropping out of school is his only option. At soccer practice, where he assumes a calculatedly laid-back persona (“I put my hand on my hip, like someone who doesn’t care if other people laugh”), he tests the waters, telling his best friend, Tyler, that he’s quitting school. Tyler has no idea why — so minor was the narrator’s transgression in everyone else’s eyes. An even more teachable moment comes later, when Tyler laughs at his own derision-worthy slipup. Tyler’s grace is a revelation for the narrator, who leaves the story finally capable of the same. The book is a riot as well as an analgesic: Vernick’s tightly wound, age-appropriately self-absorbed narrator is hugely relatable, but young readers will also get that he’s overdoing it. Cordell’s frugally tinted pen-and-ink and watercolor drawings have a Jules Feiffer–like looseness that captures the narrator’s downward thought-spiral, epitomized by a spread of an imagined all-classmate marching band chanting “Ha! Ha!” and wearing hats that read “Mommy.”

From the July/August 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

About Nell Beram

Nell Beram is coauthor of the young adult biography Yoko Ono: Collector of Skies (Amulet/Abrams), which made the 2014 Amelia Bloomer Project list and YALSA’s 2014 Outstanding Books for the College Bound list.

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