Thursday, April 03, 2008

Taneesha Never Disparaging

Looking for a multicultural book or one about bullying? M. Lavora Perry's newest has much to recommend it for elementary library collections. Taneesha, whose family is Buddhist, is a 5th grader who is conflicted about her friends, her faith, and her role in her society. Her best friend nominates her for class president, and she is not sure that she wants to run. At the same time, a girl starts bullying the two friends after school. Taneesha's parents (who are too involved for this book to resonate strongly with most middle school students) try to solve many problems by chanting, which isn't working for Taneesha, who is also beset by self-doubt, in the form of Evella, her "evil twin", which sounded rather awful in the description of the book but is merely Taneesha's own negative thoughts that occasionally surface.

The characters are well-developed and engaging, the plot sensibly constructed (if ever so slightly pat at the end; this is again better for elementary students), and the writing very facile. Perry is particularly good at similes and metaphors--so good that several phrases made me stop and write down the page. "The crease in his pants could have sliced a chunk of cold cheddar cheese", "...paper and books sprawled across the softness of the big plum rug... like sugar glaze over a Pop-Tart", and my favorite, "I scurried around like a hamster on Mountain Dew". This writing adds tremendously to the humor of the book.

My reservations about this book are minimal. The cover art looks slightly out of date (students do not seem to be as drawn to realistic drawings these days), although the artist clearly read the book. There is also a lot of detail about Buddhist religious practice. If this much detail were included in a book with a Christian character, I would hesitate, but since there are so few books with Buddhist characters (I can't name any except Kathe Koja's Buddha Boy) I think it gives valuable insight into a culture with which most students are not familiar.

I would love to see more books from this author, because I've been looking for more books about suburbanish, middle class African-Americans. For more on this author:

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