by Charise Mericle Harper
August 1, 2011 | 176 pages | Chapter Book
In Just Grace and the Double Surprise, Charise Mericle Harper's seventh installment in the Just Grace series, Grace and her friend Mimi are preparing for the arrival of Mimi's new sister, who will be adopted in the very near future. Tapping into her empathy power as usual, Grace prepares a gift for the new arrival, and worries only briefly about how things will change in her friendship with Mimi. In her own house, Grace notices that her parents are having secret discussions when she's out of earshot, and wonders what they might be saying, and she works on a new project at school, making a unique map of an unusual place.
What I like about this series is that each book teaches something new, but without sounding preachy or inserting an adult voice into the narration. This time around, Grace explores the process of writing and illustrating a children's book, the pages of which are printed as part of the story. She also learns a lot about drawing maps, including vocabulary words such as "legend," which were presented as an interesting part of the story, but are also just really useful facts for kids to know.
When Mimi's family's adoption story takes an unexpected turn (the sister isn't a sister but a brother!), Grace also learns how to be there for a disappointed friend, and how to put her own excitement over the book's second surprise aside in order to comfort Mimi. (That second surprise is a four-legged and furry one, by the way, and one I didn't see coming myself!)
I think these books get better and better as time goes on. I love Grace's fresh and spunky voice, and the fact that she is generally a good kid, but she also sometimes does something wrong, such as throwing away her brand-new purple shirt without permission. I often compare her to other similar characters, such as Mallory McDonald in Laurie Friedman's series, or Allie Finkle, in Meg Cabot's books for slightly older girls, and Grace continues to be my favorite in that group. She feels like a real kid to me, and Harper's characterization of her is nuanced and balanced, instead of focusing on just one aspect of her personality.
The appeal of this book will be for fans of the series, and probably almost exclusively for girls. However, I think, given how events from the previous books are explained briefly and incorporated into this newest story, a new reader could start with this volume and could then go back to the beginning and read the rest. I have no doubt that they will want to!
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NOTE (added October 5, 2011): This book was nominated by Danielle Smith for the 2011 Cybils Awards in the Easy Reader/Early Chapter Book category. I am a first-round panelist in this category, but this review reflects my opinions only, not those of any other panelist, or the panel as a whole. Thanks!