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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Review: School of Charm by Lisa Ann Scott

Title: School of Charm
Author: Lisa Ann Scott
Publisher: HarperCollins BFYR
Pub. Date: February 18, 2014
Genre: Middle Grade
Rec. Age Level: 12+
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Chip has always been a tomboy and daddy’s girl and she’s never felt even the littlest bit self conscious about it… until her father dies and her mother decides to move Chip and her two sisters down south to live with her mother, Chip’s grandma. It doesn’t take long to figure out that Grandma doesn’t at all approve of Chip, who’s entirely too much like her Yankee father. As her perfect sisters prepare for the annual Miss Dogwood pageant – a pageant both Chip’s mother and grandmother won as well – Chip feels even more left out. She likes who she is, the outdoorsy girl who loved her daddy and is determined to remember him no matter what, but what if the only way to make people, including her own family, like and love her is to be someone else? When Chip stumbles across Miss Vernie’s School of Charm, she decides that she’s willing to change to fit into her new life without father. Led by the supportive and quirky Miss Vernie, Chip struggles to fit into the straight-laced, judgmental southern society along with two fellow classmates (one messy and overweight, the other African American) and learns lasting lessons about being true to yourself and acceptance.

I struggled to keep my outrage in check as I read about tomboy Chip and her judgmental Grandma, who appears bent on tearing Chip down and making her feel worthless. This woman is horrible! Seriously. By the end of the novel, Chip’s mother finally starts standing up to her grandmother, but, in my opinion, neither was a very great role model for Chip. Still, this horrible grandmother offers an accessible way to present a variety of difficult topics to middle grade readers. Through Chip’s interactions with her Grandma, the reader is presented with racism, bullying, the ridiculous enforcement of gender roles, not to mention judgment and rudeness disguised as Southern hospitality.

Not only does School of Charm follow Chip’s growth, readers also follow the growth of her fellow classmates at Miss Vernie’s School of Charm. One of the best lessons illustrated by this debut from Lisa Ann Scott is the importance of who you are versus what you look like. All three girls face judgement and unequal treatment because of their physical appearance. There’s a fantastic scene in the novel when all three girls are working in Miss Vernie’s pond and end up with mud facials. As they stand together, peering at their reflections in the pond, Chip notes that, when covered with mud, all the girls look essentially the same. On the outside, they have physical differences, but at their core, they’re essentially the same and are all deserving of respect and fair treatment.


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