cover image Phoebe and the Spelling Bee

Phoebe and the Spelling Bee

Barney Saltzberg. Hyperion Books, $14.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-7868-0140-4

Echoing on-going arguments about literacy, Saltzberg (This Is a Great Place for a Hot Dog Stand) contends that rote learning doesn't work for everyone. Phoebe has a week to prepare for a spelling bee, but rather than study, she fakes a stomach ache and makes up stories with her spelling words. When called upon to spell ""actor"" or ""brontosaurus,"" for instance, Phoebe avoids the issue by saying, ""Once there was an actor who played a brontosaurus."" However, Phoebe's evasive strategies pay off during the dreaded bee. She still can't spell ""brontosaurus,"" but she has learned the rest of her list by playing word games. Saltzberg shows students how to use both memorization and creativity to get the job done (for example, method becomes an elaborate tale of a caveman named Thod, me Thod); another girl wins the ""Champion Speller"" certificate, but Phoebe proudly accepts a prize for ""Wonderful Imagination."" The unremarkable watercolor and colored-pencil cartoons don't advance the theme of uniqueness, but Phoebe's clearly explained tactics could help students who balk at spelling tests. Ages 5-8. (Oct.)