Second Grade Holdout by Audrey Vernick (review)
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Reviewed by
Vernick, Audrey Second Grade Holdout; illus. by Matthew Cordell. Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017 32p
Trade ed. ISBN 978-0-544-87681-1 $16.99
E-book ed. ISBN 978-1-328-81148-6 $16.99 R 5-8 yrs

Our narrator is on the verge of starting second grade, and it sounds bad; he’ll be in a different class than his best friend, Tyler, and he’s intimidated by all the things he hears about his new teacher’s curriculum (“Every student has to be able to speak Russian perfectly before Thanksgiving!”). His plan is to go back to his old class and be the “smartest-ever-first-grader,” but eventually he and Tyler realize that their sources (Tyler’s older sister and her friend) are winding them up and that they’re ready for second grade after all. Vernick gives a deft twist of humor to real anxieties about competence, growth, and change, and the sibling dynamic is both authentic and funny. Cordell’s line and watercolor illustrations, vignettes floating on white backgrounds, have the scrawled documentary flavor of a Jules Feiffer for the primary school set. Their depictions of the nightmare scenarios (memorized presidents marching through the spread holding impossible vocabulary words) are inventively comic, and the broad acting (the older kids have deeply insincere grins) helps telegraph the falsity of the threats as well as the humor of the exaggeration. Audiences will be tickled by the narrator’s attempted evasion, and they may enjoy coming up with some school whoppers of their own.

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