Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978

Just Dance

Just Dance

Fall 2017 Fiction
Ages: 7 & Up
Author: Patricia MacLachlan
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
ISBN: 9781481472524
Hardcover Price: $15.99

Sylvie should be happy about her summer. She gets to spend the months before fifth grade doing some of the things she likes best. Her beloved teacher's husband, Sheriff Ludolf, doesn't write very well, but Mrs. Ludolf knows that Sylvie does and arranges for Sylvie to help the sheriff. Sylvie gets to ride around helping to patrol the town of Cheyenne and writing up the sheriff's daily log in the form of haiku, free verse, or whatever form she chooses. Her family appears to be happy; her mother, formerly an opera singer, performs arias for the chickens and cows on their Wyoming farm, and her father teaches her to sing Willie Nelson songs and dance the Texas two-step. But Sylvie can't help thinking about her mother's old life, performing in glamorous opera houses with famous tenors. She can't shake the worry that her mother has given up too much for Sylvie and her brother, and that perhaps she regrets it.

This quiet middle-grade novel offers a sweet portrayal of small-town life, complete with poetic recluses, encounters with non-human animal residents, and a town paper that welcomes news written by a fifth grade student in verse form. Conflicts are generally transitory and minor, and the book's whole emphasis is on harmony and joy. Sylvie's worry over her mother's life satisfaction (which is an entirely reasonable one) is clearly not shared by anyone else. Although the figure of the precocious girl-child writer is somewhat well worn, the narration is engaging, and Sylvie's exchanges with Sheriff Ludolf are entertaining. Readers who like happy, gentle small-town stories (preferably featuring dreamy girl poets) will enjoy this addition to the genre.

Naomi Lesley   ©2017 Parents' Choice
Naomi Lesley taught middle and high school English for six years. She is currently in a doctoral program at the George Washington University, focusing on American young adult literature.

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