American contemporary

Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie

What a title! Original, a little bit gross, and evokes instant emotional connection. This is an example of how a title will pull kids in. Covers are important, but so are titles. If you can get a kid to giggle, gasp, or go “Huh?” then you have a winning title. Author Julie Sternberg definitely has a winner with her slight but mighty early chapter book, Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie.

This story tackles unwanted change. In a nutshell, it is about a beloved babysitter moving away and eight year old Eleanor learning to deal with it. Things get worse before they get better: Eleanor’s best friend is away on vacation, her mother sets her up on a playdate with a neighbour she can’t stand, and there is a new babysitter, Natalie. Even though Natalie isn’t Bibi, Eleanor learns that different isn’t always bad.

Early chapter books are a difficult beast. Marrying an interesting story with an appropriate reading level is one of the biggest challenges in writing for children, maybe even more so than writing picturebooks.* Sternberg is up for the challenge! I appreciate authors who tackle emotion head on, but with some sensitivity, particularly for young readers. There is a tendency with adults to censor books that are emotionally charged, just as there is a tendency for some writers of children’s fiction to skirt the more unsavoury emotions and ‘make it funny’. In my experience, kids love emotional stories. They grip the reader with their honesty and the child not only learns to emphathize, but to recognize and identify her/his own emotions. Some gems in this category include Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner, Butterfly Lion by Michael Morpurgo, Devil’s Bridge by Cynthia Defelice, Just Grace and it’s sequels by Charise Mericle HarperSara Pennypacker’s Clemetine books, and of course, the classic example, Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books.

In terms of clarity and ease of reading, this book is both nicely laid out and the language is well suited to that 5-8 year old early reading range.  Each chapter ranges from 2-4 pages long and includes a healthy amount of spot illustrations by Matthew Cordell to break up the text. The sentences are short but varied and include a number of little linguistic gems to add freshness and interest to her story. There is never an overwhelming amoung of text on the page.

Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie would be a great read for kids at any time, but particularly for children who are going through a big change or are about to start school, as it is a book about new beginnings and features a pretty wonderful teacher. You know how I love great teacher characters in books!

Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie is available now in hard cover from Amulet Books.

*Picture books are incredibly difficult to write, but given they are generally read by an adult to a child, the language can be more sophisticated. In a reader or young chapter book the language has to reflect the child’s reading level and abilities. Personally, I have always found that balance particularly difficult to nail. Super props to writers of picture books and early readers.

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