The Candy Smash. by Jacqueline Davies. 2013. Houghton Mifflin Books for Children. 240 pages. ISBN: 9780544022089
The Candy Smash is the fourth book in the Lemonade War series about Jessie and Evan Treski, siblings who are in the same fourth grade class. It is February and Valentine’s Day approaches. Inspired by his teacher’s presentation of a poem of the day, Evan starts writing love poems, first about his grandmother and later about Megan Moriarty, on whom he has a crush. In the meantime, Jessie works on her extra credit project, a class newspaper. She hopes to find out not only who is delivering secret forbidden candy to the whole class, but also who in her class has a crush on someone else and how her classmates think crushes should be revealed. As in the other books of the series, Jessie fails to understand basic social cues, while Evan loses patience with his sister when she violates his privacy.
So far, in this series, Jacqueline Davies has taught readers about economics, law, and maps. In The Candy Smash, she focuses on journalism and poetry. Each chapter opens with the definition of a term associated with either newspapers or creative writing, and through Jessie and Evan’s experiences, the reader learns the proper use of these terms. The educational aspect of the story is certainly subtle and does not overpower the plot, but there are lots of great opportunities for classroom teachers to connect this book to their curricula.
This is a largely character driven story, which provides a lot of insight into the personalities of both Jessie and Evan. Only Evan’s character truly seems to develop, though; I keep wondering with each new book when Jessie is going to begin to mature a little bit as well. True, she is a year younger than her classmates, but even so, there should be some changes happening in her worldview and relationships that I haven’t really seen yet. Davies does a great job of depicting Jessie’s innocence and lack of experience, but it’s becoming less believable as she gets older. I was also surprised by how little their grandmother appears in this story. After the events of The Bell Bandit, she has moved in with the Treskis, but we don’t see much of her, even though her presence looms large in Evan’s poetic mind. Also notable is Jessie and Evan’s teacher, who is invested in her students and dedicated to helping them improve as students and as possible. I love the way she uses her cat, Langston, as her class mascot and displays pictures of him around her classroom. I’d put her in the same category as Clementine’s wonderful teacher, Mr. D’Matz.
My favorite thing about this book, overall, is how well it handles the romance theme. Many books for younger middle grade readers introduce dating into their fourth grade characters’ lives as though it is a perfectly natural thing for nine-year-olds to pair off into couples. In my experiences with kids, they are not into dating at that young an age, and this book reflects reality much more closely than a lot of others of this same reading level and genre. Sure, the characters have crushes, but they are still figuring out what that means and how it will impact their friendships. I especially like the way Evan’s crush on Megan is resolved - sweetly, but without tons of adult commitments and middle school-esque drama.
The Candy Smash doesn’t really stand on its own, so I’d recommend starting with The Lemonade War and reading the books in order. Parents should feel comfortable giving this series to their second- and third-graders who are strong readers, and I think even fifth graders can still enjoy the stories. Budding journalists and poets will love the back matter showing the class newspaper and some of the poems the students have written. Though Valentine’s Day has passed for this year, there is lots in this book that’s worth reading any time!
I borrowed The Candy Smash from my local public library.
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