Friday, June 17, 2016

Cammie McGovern's JUST MY LUCK

Cammie McGovern's Just My Luck is new this year (2016) from HarperCollins. A reader wrote to ask me about it, because Indian in the Cupboard is part of the story.

I started reading it two days ago and kept setting it aside. The main character is a 4th grader named Benny. His brother, George, is in 6th grade, and is "medium-functioning autistic" (p. 16). I hope Disability in Kidlit finds someone to review it. Some time back, I read their review of Anne Ursu's The Real Boy. I love that book. One thing that stood out in the review was that the story is told from the perspective of the autistic child, rather than from outsider's who gawk at him. There are pages in Just My Luck where it feels like someone is gawking at George.

I got to page 49 and paused. At that point in the story, Benny is with his older brother, Martin, who is on his first date with Lisa. They go into a Barnes & Noble, where Lisa asks Benny what he's reading (p. 49):
She said she knew it sounded childish but her favorite books were still the Little House on the Prairie series that she read when she was in Mr. Norris's class. "I just love them," she said."
Benny has a crush on Lisa, and so, he says he loves them, too. He's never read them, but their mother used to make them watch the TV show. Two weeks later when she's visiting their house, Benny pretends to be reading Little House in the Big Woods. Lisa exclaims that it is her favorite book.

I wonder if McGovern read that book recently? In Little House in the Big Woods, Pa tells the girls how he, as a young boy, would play that he was a mighty hunter stalking wild animals and Indians. Stalking Indians. Do you remember that part of that book? Do you know any other book for kids that has someone hunting another person or people?

I wanted to throw Just My Luck across the room when I got to that part and I want to ask McGovern if she remembers that passage.

On page 64, Lisa tells Benny that Mr. Norris read Indian in the Cupboard aloud to them when she was in his class and that he dressed up as characters, too. That was five years back. Benny is in Mr. Norris's class now and he's not done anything like that. Benny tells his mom that Mr. Norris wasn't reading Indian in the Cupboard to them, so, his mom gets the book from the library and starts reading it aloud, doing the voices as she does (p. 72):
It turns out he's [Little Bear] not only alive, but he's a real person from history, an Iroquois who's fighting battles with the French and English. So Mom has to talk like him, which George loves because he doesn't talk very well. George keeps laughing until Mom tells him it isn't really funny. "In fact," she says, "it perpetuates a lot of negative stereotypes about Native Americans, which is probably why Mr. Norris isn't reading this book out loud to his class anymore."
Then she keeps on reading. She's decided, apparently, that she's going to perpetuate those stereotypes herself. That doesn't add up, does it? And it doesn't seem very caring of her to lay into George like she did, either. She's deliberately being an animated reader, which prompts a response from her autistic son, and she scolds him?! And keeps reading?!

Throughout the next chapters, Benny thinks about toys coming to life. He wants a cupboard so he can bring his Legos to life. Several times, he thinks about Indian in the Cupboard as he develops the idea for how he'll use his Legos to make a movie. Later, they find out why Mr. Norris isn't doing the things he used to do. It isn't because he's recognized the problems in Indian in the Cupboard. It is because he's got to take care of his own autistic son, and he's exhausted. He has no time or energy to do the things he used to do.

I don't like Just My Luck. If Disability in Kidlit reviews it, I'll be back to point to their review. For now, the Native content alone is enough for me to say that I do not recommend Just My Luck. 


Adelaide Dupont said...

Glad you liked THE REAL BOY. And Disability in Kidlit in general.

If there are a few gawking passages it does tend to feel like the whole book.

There's been a Cammie McGovern book in my circles. It's about Amy and her friend/peer helper.

Hayley said...

While I agree with many of your points, I wanted to point out that Mr Norris's motivation for not reading The Indian in the Cupboard is not made clear, nor do we know when he stopped reading it. He has only been looking after his autistic son for a short while, so we don't know if that's the reason, or if he decided it was inappropriate.