When she was eight years old, Lauren quit gymnastics. Now she and her friend Cyndi have joined up again, this time at a real studio with a coach who expects all the girls to perform competitively. Lauren’s not convinced she has what it takes, and an older bully is no help in building her confidence, but with help from coach Patrick and new teammates Darlene and Jodi, she wants to prove that she can live up to her potential.
I remember Elizabeth Levy best from her Something Queer books illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein, but I also recall seeing The Gymnasts series in my elementary school when she came to visit on Author’s Day one year. I was never interested in sports as a kid, so I definitely wouldn’t have read this series even if someone suggested it, but I can see now that I probably would have enjoyed it. Lauren has a funny, spunky personality, and like The Baby-sitters Club, the series focuses on several girls, giving each reader someone to potentially relate to.
I don’t know much about gymnastics, but based on some of the contemporary books I’ve read about the sport (the McKenna books and Dominique Moceanu’s new book), it seems like it hasn’t changed very much in 24 years. Much of the same vocabulary I encountered in those contemporary stories is also present here, and only one reference to Mary Lou Retton dates the book specifically to the 80s. Otherwise, this book reads like a contemporary series book, just without the usual references to texting and email. Even the camcorder and videotape which figure so heavily into a side plot involving an older bully could easily be replaced with a digital camera and a DVD without changing the story itself in any way.
This book also reminded me of how much I used to love chapter titles as a kid. Any time I tried writing a story, I always divided it into chapters just so I could write catchy little titles. I don’t see chapter titles very often in series books these days, but it’s an aspect of kids’ books I really miss. I also like the way this book shows a gymnast in a different pose at the start of each chapter. I don’t think those little icons have much to do with the content of the individual chapters, but they are visually appealing, and I wish more series books had nice little touches like that to enhance the reading experience. (The Sleuth or Dare series does this with fingerprints, and it looks great.)
I am still not crazy enough about gymnastics, so I doubt I’ll be running out to track down the other 21 titles in this series, but I am glad to have satisfied my curiosity about what my younger self missed.
These days, Elizabeth Levy is still writing and publishing. Her most recent book, which is again illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein, is Parrots and Pirates. It was published in November 2011, and is available for the Nook. She has also teamed up with Bruce Coville to write Amber Brown is Tickled Pink, which they have written to carry on the legacy of their best friend Paula Danziger, who died in 2004. Amber Brown is Tickled Pink will be published in September.
Visit Elizabeth Levy online at http://elizabethlevy.com/.
I purchased The Beginners from my local used book store.