With a little help from a caring adult, a child crippled by shyness begins to bloom.
Soon-to-be fifth grader Mattie is painfully shy, making the frequent moves her mother has initiated especially difficult. In the last days of summer, after she and her mother move in with her Uncle Potluck, the elementary-school custodian, he quickly recognizes both her talent and her difficulties and begins bringing her to work with him, where she records everything he does in her journal (since she’s a writer). She hopes that if she learns enough custodial skills, she can become his junior apprentice during lunch and recess and so avoid the most challenging times of the school day. Meanwhile, she is studiously steering clear of Quincy, a slightly older girl visiting next door; in trying to avoid the social minefield of friendship, she fails to recognize that Quincy is a kindred spirit. As amiable Potluck gently guides her, and her jittery but loving mother comes to better understand her, Mattie believably begins to turn from her inwardly focused timidity to an eye-opening awareness of the complexity of others’ emotional landscapes. Combining Mattie’s poignant writing and interior monologue, exquisite character development and a slow, deliberate pace, Urban spins a story that rings true.
This outstanding, emotionally resonant effort will appeal to middle-grade readers. (Fiction. 8-12)