Secrets of Second Grade

Seven-year-old Bean (she only hears her full name Bernice Blue when getting into trouble) lives with her bossy eleven-year-old sister, Nancy, and her mom and dad in a house on Pancake Court. She's the kind of kid that gets along with everyone--at the center of the neighborhood action.  So when Ivy, a little girl the same age, moves in across the street, why wouldn’t Bean say hello?


Where Bean’s hair was usually in tangles, Ivy’s long red curly hair was always in place. Beside Ivy wore dresses and her nose was always in a thick book. Bean only wears a dress when her mom makes her and big books make her restless. And then there is  the “kiss of death” --her mom keeps saying that they should be friends because Ivy “seem[s] like a nice girl.” Well,  that's the last kid that Bean would want to be friends with. Verdict: “Boring.”


Annie Barrows (known to adult readers for her best-selling The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society) accomplishes the almost impossible task of reflecting the world of second grader, creating the tension and drama of family and friendships in language that can be read easily by child who recently graduated from easy readers to early chapter books. Books the employ this perfect mix of limited language, short chapters and (of course) topics of interest for this age group are few and far between. And with these two very real characters getting into scrapes that could happen to any of us, we know have in our hands a book as rare as rubies in a playground sandbox.


Barrows honors the everyday with joy and humor as Ivy and Bean torture the baby sitter, try to be kind, generous and pure of heart, plan on breaking a world record, end up in a ghostly situation, find out that ballet class isn’t exactly what they thought and try find the solution to global warming for a science fair project.  Sophie Blackall’s occasional black-and white drawings illuminate the text with compatible humor.


Best of all: each book in the series works marvelously as a stand-alone, story, so  they can be read (and re-read) out of order.   Just in time for the holidays, the first six Ivy and Bean titles are available in two boxed sets, 1,2,3 plus a secret treasure box and 4, 5, 6 with paper-dolls and vinyl stickers.   (And if that's not enough for your young reader, there's a  seventh volume, What's the Big Idea.)




Lisa Von Drasek is the children's Librarian at the Bank Street College of Education. Her reviews and commentary have appeared in School Library Journal, The New York Times, Kirkus Reviews, The Bark, Knowledge Quest, Teaching K-8, Nick Jr., and more.

July 22: On this day in 1941, on his twelfth wedding anniversary, Eugene O'Neill presented the just-finished manuscript of Long Day's Journey into Night to his wife, Carlotta.

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