Monday, May 3, 2010

Natalie and the Bestest Friend Race

It's difficult to find read-to-me or beginning reader chapter books for Christian kids, so Dandi Daley Mackall's Natalie series is most welcome in our household.

In Natalie and the Bestest Friend Race, our impish protagonist Nat tells the story of how she accidentally told her best friend Laurie's secret. In their kindergarten class, Laurie goes into what nasty Peter-the-Not-So-Great calls the "dumb" reading group. Nat tries to defend her friend, blurting out that she has dyslexia - a secret Laurie wanted kept. When Laurie learns everyone in their class knows of her reading difficulty, she's deeply hurt to find out Nat is the source of it all.

So when it comes time to pick teams for the Kindergarten Olympics, Laurie doesn't chose Nat. Instead, they end up on opposing teams. Worse, Laurie starts hanging out with Not-So-Nice Sasha.

As Nat tries to work out her feelings of guilt, sadness, and anger over her best friend no longer being her best friend, she learns she's pretty good at jumping hurdles - her sport in the Kindergarten Olympics. In fact, she's almost sure to win the hurdling competition - until Laurie falls and Nat rushes to help her. Nat blurts out a heartfelt apology, and Laurie forgives her. Nat looses the race, but she and Laurie hold hands and cross the finish line together.

Throughout, black and white illustrations by Lys Blakeslee add interest.

What I Like: Mackall is good at getting into the head of Nat; the first person prose certainly rings true. The story also gives parents and young children an excellent opportunity to talk about good sportsmanship, loyalty, and the ups and downs of friendship. And while Nat admits she doesn't understand why God would allow Laurie to have dyslexia ("This does not seem like a fair thing. And right then, right there, I whisper this to God. I hope it doesn't hurt God's feelings, but I tell him I don't like that he let Laurie have 'slexia...And I wish he hadn't made that mistake with my friend. That's what."), she also learns God never makes mistakes.

What I Dislike: I really dislike children's books that use incorrect English. Throughout, Mackall's Nat calls Laurie her "bestest friend" and at one point, Nat states that something "works pretty good."

Overall Rating: Very Good.

Age Appeal: According to the publisher, 4 - 8, but most kids don't want to read about "little kids" who are younger than they are.

Publishing Info: Zonderkidz, 2009; ISBN: 978-0310715702; paperback, $4.99

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Special Info: Read our reviews of other Natalie books. Also check out our reviews of other books by Dandi Daley Mackall.

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