Several children work together and separately to make their small community a better place in this debut middle-grade novel.
Flint Hill Elementary School may seem run-of-the-mill on the outside, but inside, its fifth-grade students are making serious strides. When Jefferson is invited to dream up and paint a mural on the side of the school, he must look within himself and cut out the “white noise” around him to create the best image. At home, Alec finds that you can only let your parents clean up your room so much, and he learns to take more personal responsibility, with some chuckleworthy results. Samantha wants to try out for Little Shop of Horrors, the school’s yearly musical, but a bully and her own fear of falling off the stage (again) stop her from doing so; however, she gracefully steps into the role in a time of need and channels her fears positively. Talmage, fresh off his search for a mystical fish for his father, learns that perseverance can be its own reward. Genevieve must protect some school projects involving eggs but ultimately learns that it’s hard for one person to do it all. Together, the various friends at Flint Hill have qualities that will help anyone, young or old, “crack the code to an epic life,” as the book puts it. Johnson is a purposeful storyteller, and each of his seven tales embodies a different, important characteristic that a successful person should have. The individual stories, though, vary in quality. Some, like the tales of Talmage’s quest against the “Monster” fish and Alec’s quickly dirtying room, effectively get their messages across. Others, like the story of Genevieve and her eggs, may take a little more explanation, especially for younger readers. But even though they’re not all home runs, any of the seven stories is sure to spawn discussion between adults and children about how can they achieve perseverance, caring, and belief in themselves.
An animated, if uneven, group of inspiring tales.