Sunday, July 11, 2021

Better With Butter

Piontek,Victoria. Better With Butter
July 20th 2021 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Marvel has a lot of anxiety. Her parents have her in therapy, and the school knows about her issues, but she still has to complete certain tasks. When a public Wax Museum goes badly wrong for her, she is sure that she can never go to school again and plans to convince her mother to let her be homeschooled. On her way home, she sees several boys tormenting a small goat, who faints whenever they scare it. The goat is filthy and has been eating garbage, but has a name tag on that says "Butter". She takes the goat home, hoping to convince her landscape designer mother to let her keep it, Her father is in the navy, and is often away on assignment. Her older brother, Reef, thinks she's misguided, and when Butter eats things in the yard, he's proven right. Her mother is ready to take the goat to the humane society, but her father comes home and says that they can foster the goat until the owner is found. Marvel makes very little effort in that direction, but manages to get a note from her school counselor that she should have an Emotional Support Animal, and she takes that and runs with it. She registers Butter, makes him a vest, and takes him to school. It's her teacher's first year, and she believes the paperwork, but eventually, Marvel is called to the office. The principal says she can bring Butter on a trial basis, and before long, Marvel has a role in the school production of Heidi with Butter by her side, and is visiting the lower school to help other students with anxiety. Marvel makes friends with some of her classmates who are intrigued by her unusual pet, and is far less anxious with the goat by her side. This is great, but what will happen if Butter's owner claims her?
Strengths: While I can't imagine any student being allowed to bring a goat into my school, Piontek very carefully addresses any issues that might arise and makes me believe that Marvel is not only allowed to keep the goat at home, but also is allowed to bring it to school. The family dynamic with her father returning home makes sense, and her efforts to register the animal (which doesn't need to be done) and bring the paperwork to school shows initiative. I was glad that the help she is receiving for her anxiety is outlined, but it is also realistic that the school requires her to do the same work other children are doing. The interactions with her classmates ring true, and it's good to see that while some classmates make fun of her, others are empathetic and try to befriend her. 
Weaknesses: This story was solidly written, fast-paced, and engaging. On a personal level, this was hard for me to read. I was an anxious, weepy child who was scared of everything, and the wisdom at the time was to tell the child to buck up. My parents were both educators, and had no patience for any reluctance. There are a LOT of students today who act like Marvel, and I'm not sure that today's methods of dealing with them will make them more successful. There are a lot of librarians and teachers who are open about their own anxiety online, so clearly my opinions are in the minority, and this book is definitely on trend.
What I really think: This was similar to Kadohata's Saucy, but I could believe it a bit more. My students will have more sympathy for the main character than I do, and since this is generally upbeat and believable, I will buy a copy. The cover alone will insure that this is always checked out. 

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