cover image The New Girl... and Me

The New Girl... and Me

Jacqui Robbins, , illus. by Matt Phelan. . Atheneum/Jackson, $16.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-689-86468-1

Roberts, making her debut, and Phelan (illustrator of The Seven Wonders of Sassafrass Springs ) team up for a raw and affirming book about two girls' bumpy path to friendship. When narrator Mia's teacher asks the class to make Shakeeta, a new classmate, feel at home, "I ask Ms. Becky, 'How can someone feel at home when she's at school?' " In spare language, the rest of the book explores this idea. Early scenes depict the new student clinging to the doorway while the teacher introduces Shakeeta, and when D.J., the class bully, calls her "Shakeeta Mosquita," she responds, "I'll punch you in the head!" But something about Shakeeta and the teacher's request touches Mia, and the heroine finally finds her chance to reach out to Shakeeta. Roberts beautifully articulates the emotional stakes: "Maybe now Shakeeta would like for me to show her around. Maybe she will punch me in the head." As the friendship slowly blossoms, Shakeeta and Mia demonstrate to readers how connections forged with others can help us feel "at home" in the world. Phelan's use of space communicates the initial isolation of the girls, separated by a plane of whiteness; with their first shared laugh, he floods the background with color and brings the two girls closer together—both physically and emotionally. This honest book does not shy away from the courage it takes to make a friend, and it also celebrates the rewards to be gained by forming such a bond. Ages 4-7. (July)