Quill and Quire

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So Long Stinky Queen

by Frieda Wishinsky, Linda Hendry, illus.

The cover of Frieda Wishinsky’s latest chapter book shows third-grader Samantha looking over her shoulder, anxiously watching out for her nemesis, Evelyn, the queen of mean. Wishinsky’s comic problem novel tackles a familiar dilemma faced by children at school: how to survive and outwit the class bully.
Samantha is full of dread at the start of the year, suspecting that school will be even worse than before because her mother is teaching there. And she’s right. Evelyn (who’s taught by Samantha’s mother) intensifies her tormenting of Samantha, who, as usual, suffers in silence, her comebacks never quite making the journey fast enough from her brain to her tongue.
The story touches on Wishinsky’s core themes: the saving grace and restorative powers of friendship and creativity. However, the treatment lacks Wishinsky’s characteristic invention and depth, for in this book every ele-ment has been stripped down for ease and speed of reading. Wishinsky’s use of rapid-fire simple sentences and one-sentence paragraphs no doubt will get children reading at a clip, but the relentless repetitions in structure and rhythm rapidly become boring and annoying. To make the plot fast moving, nuances of character and story that might have made the narrative more original are kept to a minimum. Outside of smart, sensitive, shy Samantha and her vividly rendered emotions and Evelyn’s vigorous viciousness, none of the characters live on the page.
Hooking children on the pleasures of reading means more than just getting them to gallop through a book. It should also involve enticing them to linger over character quirks and story twists and to savour the delicious taste of language.