Ages 8 to 12. Farrar Straus Giroux, 2006. 0-374-31789-4
Junior Library Guild selection
How I Came to Write This Book:
I've always been fascinated by the way that parents -- even, or especially, the best-intentioned parents -- label their children as a way of establishing the child's own special identity within the family: "This is my shy one" or "This is my outgoing one"; "He's my little musician"; "She's my little diplomat." I caught myself doing it once when my boys were younger: I was explaining that Christopher was my shy one and Gregory was my outgoing one, when I looked down to see my "shy one" off digging happily in the sandbox with a playmate, and my "outgoing one" clinging to my leg! And I started to wonder about what happens when children outgrow the identities their parents create for them -- or even trade identities with each other.
I decided to set my story against the backdrop of the fun elementary school "Mini-Society" curriculum that both my boys had enjoyed experiencing, where kids learn about economics by creating products and services to sell to their classmates. I had such a good time coming up with both successful and doomed entrepreneurial schemes for Todd and Amy and their friends, some modeled on what I was lucky enough to observe in my boys' own classrooms.
A crisp drama that aptly shows how things rarely turn out perfectly in life, but they often work out well enough. Mills level-headedly speaks for and to 'tweens about the ways we adjust to fit into an ever-changing world.
Fifth-grade twins Todd and Amy know their roles: Todd is the clever and organized one who takes life in stride, while Amy is the disorganized and sensitive poet. Roles don't seem to mean much at home, though, since the twins' father is now hanging unshaven around the house all day after losing his engineer position, while their mother has taken a job at the local crafts store to make ends meet. Roles at school start to deteriorate as well, when the class has to make products to sell: Todd, who always works alone, can't think of anything in the face of the illness of the elderly and beloved family dog; Amy gets squeezed out of her friendship triumvirate and ends up involuntarily partnered with the class crybaby, Violet. What could be a fairly standard exploration of family and friendship strain is lifted into a subtle exploration of an unusual theme by Mills' insight and nuance, presented with her usual unobtrusively thoughtful writing. . . Readers will appreciate the easygoing read and may want to consider the possibilities of stepping beyond the boundaries of their own usual roles.