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Book Reviews

Give Maggie a Chance

by Frieda Wishinsky, Dean Griffiths, illus.

Maggie is excited about her first day in a new class. But when she is asked to read, she freezes, and scornful Kimberly makes her want to sink through the floor. The next day is no better – Maggie tries to read but can’t say a word, and Kimberly triumphantly reads instead. On the third day, however, when Kimberly sneers at the efforts of Maggie’s stuttering friend Sam, an indignant Maggie finds the courage to defend Sam and overcome her shyness to read on her own.

This lovely book will resonate with many schoolchildren. Kimberly’s power to threaten Maggie’s self-esteem is vividly clear, and Maggie must find her own way out of this dilemma. Wishinsky’s well-crafted text uses rhythms of the folktale – a classic genre for underdog stories – to increase dramatic tension, particularly in its repetition of threes. Like many folktale heroes, Maggie wins in her third encounter with Kimberly. Maggie’s fantasies of revenge also come in threes – she longs for her foe to be removed by a giant wave, a giant bird, then a giant troll.

Dean Griffiths’ wonderful illustrations perfectly capture the strong emotions of the story. The big surprise here is that all of the characters are cats! Primly clad in dresses, jackets, and shoes, Maggie and her classmates are completely anthropomorphized. This makes for some sly humour (Maggie’s toys are mice and dogs) but may also be a distancing device.

This is a book that will surely be popular with children struggling with their own Kimberlys at school.