Saturday, July 4, 2009

Natalie Really Very Much Wants to Be a Star

Natalie Really Very Much Wants to Be a Star by Dani Daley Mackall is the third book in the "That's Nat!" series. These chapter books are unique in that they are thinner (this one is 93 pages of large text) and have more illustrations than many other chapter books, making them ideal read-to books for kids ready to move away from picture books, and great reading for children whose reading skills are growing.

In this installment, five year old Nat discovers her Sunday school class is putting on a Christmas play for the entire congregation. Nat is sure she'll grow up to be a movie star, and covets the role of Mary. She doesn't just want the part. No, Nat thinks she needs the part. When Nat's Sunday school teacher says she has a special announcement, Nat thinks:
"I LOVE 'nouncements! 'Nouncements are when you know something other people don't. And you tell them. And they say 'Ah!' or 'Wow!' 'Nouncements could be telling you that you are going to Disneyland. Like, 'I have a 'nouncement! We will all be going to Disneyland for Sunday school.' Or, it can be other stuff. Like, 'I have a 'nouncement. This year, Christmas will not take so long to get here. And there will be more presents!'"
But Nat's Sunday school teacher announces she's cast a different girl as Mary. Nat is cast as a tree. Maybe, Nat thinks, she doesn't want to be in the play after all. And maybe the season is going to be lousy this year, all around, because Nat really needs a princess castle Christmas present, even though her parents tell her it costs as much as a refrigerator - and they've already bought a different present, anyway.

Then Nat's grandma visits and says,
"Mary's a good part all right...Of course, it's an easy part to play, being a human and all. Much more challenging to be something that's not human. Still, I think I'd rather be a tree...God talks about trees all over the Bible...There was an important tree right in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. David and the other psalmists sang about trees showing God's power and grace. There were trees clapping their hands, dancing before the Lord Almighty!"
Later, Nat wakes in the middle of the night, determined to be the best tree she can be. When performance time comes and she's busy unexpectedly dancing and clapping all over the stage, she ends up in the nativity scene. The kids playing Mary and Joseph aren't pleased, but Nat looks down on the pretend baby Jesus and is genuinely moved. She pulls palm leaves from her costume and lays one on the baby doll and the rest all around the manger. Then everyone begins clapping. Nat thinks, "Only I clap very much louder than anybody else. On account of I am clapping for Jesus."

What I Like: Mackall understands this age group perfectly. Nat is a genuine, flawed human being, struggling with such things as covetousness, envy, and pride. She's your average sweet five year old, learning how to cope with her emotions and the people around her. My not-quite four year old adores this character.

Mackall also does a great job of making Nat's Christian life realistic: Her parents get frustrated and yell when she makes them late for church, Nat confuses various Bible stories, and Nat sometimes prays with the wrong motivation. But she also clearly loves Jesus and wants to obey him.

Lys Blakeslee supplies 22 black and white illustrations for the book, and they do a great job of making us love whimsical, befuddled Nat even more.

What I Dislike: Mackall writes the "That's Nat!" books in Nat's voice; this can make them a little difficult to read out loud - at least until you get the knack of how Nat speaks. However, this particular volume has some phrasing that is so incorrect, I find myself editing as I read aloud. I don't want my daughter to pick up Nat's poor grammar. For example, Nat talks about her "bestest friend" and "favoritest things." Nat also repeatedly uses the word "stupidhead."

Overall Rating: Although this volume isn't as good as the first "That's Nat!" book, it's still enjoyable. Given the language in the book, I struggled a bit with whether to give it a "Good" or "Very Good" rating, but because it was a big hit with my daughter, I give Natalie Really Very Much Wants to Be a Star a "Very Good" rating.

Age Appeal: According to the publisher, 4 - 8, but few 8 year olds want to read books about five year olds.

Publisher Info: Zonderkidz, 2009; ISBN: 978-0310715672; paperback, $4.99

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Special Info: Nat mentions a Halloween costume in this book, and the idea of going to church on Sunday predominates this title. Be sure to read our reviews of other "That's Nat!" books, as well as our reviews of additional Dandi Daley Mackall titles.

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1 comment:

Sarah said...

My daughter liked these books almost as much as Junie B Jones, which we read regularly. I didn't mind the grammar part since I already have Junie's voice down. On the other hand there might be some families who feel uncomfortable with the stupidhead thing. Thanks for your reviews! Your blog is going onto my google reader. I am a mom and a church librarian and a teacher so these resources you are providing are right up my alley.