The One and Only Stuey Lewis by Jane Schoenberg, illustrated by Cambria Evans (nominated for the Cybils by Sarah Wendorf at Page in Training) is the first book I’ve read with my book-judging hat on, and if all the books I read as part of the Cybils judging process are as good as this, I’m in for a really wonderful next few months.
Four perceptive, funny stories following a school year in the life of The One and Only Stuey Lewis make up this Early Chapter Book. The book opens at the start of Stuey’s second school year with him full of worries about what the year, his school, his teacher will be like. All his fears are magnified because he feels he’s not a great reader and doesn’t want anyone to know this secret of his.
Later in the school year we meet Stuey conjuring up schemes to collect as much Halloween candy as possible, and then learning tough lessons about being his own man, stepping out of the shadow of his big and brilliant brother Anthony. By the time the school year draws to a close, Stuey is actually sorry to see the summer holidays start: It’s been a great year for him, he’s learned to read well, he’s been brave and found his own way, and he’s discovered that he can survive, that he can actually make anything work.
This book has many strengths but I particularly enjoyed it for its humour, its warmth and lightness of touch. It’s a book full of love and optimism, without ever being patronising or sickly sweet. I think its an ideal book for a kid in his or her second year in school to read themselves, although perhaps at the start of the year it will still be a little challenging a read for many children.
The physical book is a very nice thing too – just the right size and weight for young hands to hold and feel like they’ve got a “proper” book in their mitts; hardback but pocket sized, with a sprinkling of fun illustrations that match the tenor of the text to a T.
Although with a clearly American setting (Stuey is a second grade student, football is called soccer, the tradition of Halloween candy collecting plays a major role) I think this book will be enjoyed by 6/7/8 year old kids across the world – kids whether in Sydney, Nova Scotia or Sydney, Australia may worry about what their teachers will be like, how they are going to deal with kids in their classes they don’t get on with, and what skills they’re going to need to survive school. With The One and Only Stuey Lewis in their hands and heads, they’ll feel more confident, more reassured, and will no doubt have a good giggle along the way.
Disclaimer: This review represents my own personal opinion and does not reflect discussions or decisions of the Cybils Easy Reader / Early Chapter Book Panel. I received my copy of this book from the publisher.