A red-haired girl has three weeks to prove that kids in wheelchairs can gain acceptance, popularity, and maybe fame in this middle-grade novel.
Bluebell Skinks is as bold as her frizzy red hair, and she’s fearless while practicing spins “in a purple wheelchair…the latest model.” She and her sister, Bonnie (blonde, calm, and tidy), have always been privately tutored; their wealthy dad worries about mean children. Spending summers with Mr. Skinks, Bonnie, and Grandmother Skinks, Bluebell is due to return to Europe, where she lives with her mother, but that’s delayed this year. Meanwhile, Mr. Skinks and Bonnie go out of town, leaving Bluebell with her busy grandmother—the perfect opportunity to secretly attend Mortimer Potts Elementary School. Her plan? She’ll “become the most popular kid in the history of the school, maybe even famous!” Bluebell impersonates her grandmother on the phone and arranges a good reception at the school, not least because the principal would love a job with Skinks Industries. Bluebell makes friends and gains admirers with one exploit after another while outwitting Hoops Russell, the school’s best basketball player, who becomes determined to discredit her. By the end, everyone sees disability differently. Cooper (Granny’s Teeth, 2017) keeps things bouncing along with improbable but amusing events, like a science teacher’s experiment gone awry. At the same time, a strong dose of realism makes Bluebell’s progress more believable; for example, she campaigns for student government not through impossible promises but by thinking through, and getting buy-in for, workable compromises. Though broad, humor can be pointed: Bluebell’s well-meaning teacher is quoted as saying, “We should remember that disabled people are just like us, almost.” If Bluebell seems a little too self-confident and mature to be a realistic role model, there’s also an adult wheelchair basketball team whose members’ athleticism even Hoops admires—and a twist ending that puts things in perspective. The pencil comic book–style illustrations are animated and nicely composed.
Very entertaining, with an irrepressible, cheerworthy heroine.