Thursday, May 30, 2013

2014 Contenders: Call Me Oklahoma!, by Miriam Glassman

Nine-year-old Paige Turner is tired. She's tired of being scared, of being shy, and especially of being picked on by Viveca Frye, the resident bully. What she needs, she decides, is a new persona, and so she begins the school year by requesting that everyone call her Oklahoma.

What follows is a pleasant, charming story of a young girl figuring out her own identity. There are bumps along the way, to be sure -- and Paige/Oklahoma doesn't always make the best choice in every situation -- but this is a story of optimism.

Frankly, Call Me Oklahoma! is much better than I had anticipated. From the cartoony cover and the brief description, I'd expected a sort of sub-Judy Moody product, but the novel is actually a well-crafted slice of contemporary fiction. The dialogue is snappy, and Paige/Oklahoma's inner struggles are communicated clearly and with respect.

Really, Call Me Oklahoma! is more along the lines of something like Clementine, or Ramona Quimby, Age 8. It's not quite at the level of those books -- it has too many stock characters (the snotty older brother, the kindly, foreign-born piano teacher, the bratty relative), and some of the tropes are too familiar (the book ends at a talent show, which has been done so many times that it's hard to pull off effectively). Nonetheless, it's likely to be enjoyed by the kinds of readers who appreciated those classics.

In the end, Call Me Oklahoma! is closer to the level of Newbery contenders than one might think. It's short of the top tier for this year, but it might be my favorite novel of the cycle so far for the younger chapter book crowd.

Published in April by Holiday House

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