I didn't look at the back cover of this book before reading it. I was in the mood to dig right into a story and that's what I did. It didn't take long for me to feel slightly off-balance by the prose. Being a writer myself, I enjoy observing a new style and this, for sure, was unique to anything I've read in quite a while. After the first chapter I finally turned the book over to see that this was a "juvenile fiction" book. My perspective shifted. I mentally rewound the previous chapter and then completely understood the story more clearly. Then, I repeated the same thought I had earlier: "I haven't read anything like this in ages!" (And that's an excited exclamation point, not a frustrated one.)
The book is called, Larger-Than-Life Lara by Dandi Daley Mackall.
This book is relevant, candid, exposing, and thought-provoking. The book gets to you a little more than you expect it to and it urges the reader to take action. Laney is a girl from a broken home who vulnerably tells you the story of Lara. Laney tells it like it is and carefully keeps bad words out of the book by telling you that she realizes some books get burned for having those kind of words in them. She gives you enough detail to know things are very troublesome at home, while still keeping some of the harsher details within nuance.
Lara is the new girl in class who is overweight. Her appearance shocks everyone, but even more lasting than her indelible appearance is the change she brings to the school's perspective on kindness and forgiveness. She loves those and bears with those who treat her the worst. Even more than merely tolerating them, Lara seems to find the good in them and even helps them.
The characters are believable, especially the villain of the book, Joey Gilbert. Every one of us grew up with one of those boys who was always up to trouble. That character took me right back to grade school. I was grateful to walk with Laney through this story. It reminded me how children judge other children by their outsides and although we should be over that by the time we are adults, we often still mistreat others or make assumptions based on their appearance, just like we did when we were younger.
Here are some things that stood out to me about this book:
- The author teaches the reader about writing throughout the book. It's a bonus. Laney describes what a climax is, what a villain or antagonist is, she tells the reader what a transition is, and my very favorite- she describes what a "frozen moment" is. (I actually used a frozen moment in my own writing later in the week after hearing the author describe it!) A child could read this book and come out of the story as a stronger writer which is superb. I was impressed.
- The author shows the harsh reality of bullying.
- The author gives a glimpse into the life of childhood obesity. You see the inconveniences, the awkwardness and the sadness.
- It ends well. There are many things for the reader to consider, one of which is how we treat those who are overweight. Another lesson is that kindness is always an exceptional response. A part of you wants to be like Lara. You will want to be patient and brave like her.
- Laney slowly gets more and more comfortable in her interactions with Lara. I would hope that children reading this would also realize that they have the power to stand up for what's right when someone else is being hurt.
I will be passing this book onto my 6th grade daughter and also my 4th grade daughter to read. Please check out the book yourself and make sure it meets your standards of appropriateness for whatever aged kids you have at home. For me, I think this will be a wonderful teaching tool, not only for their writing, but much more importantly for their hearts. I want my kids to be brave enough to help those who are hurting. I want my kids to look past outward appearances without looking past the person all together and most importantly, I'd really like to discuss how returning kindness to our enemies is more powerful than we can fathom!
I consider myself to be pretty conservative, but I also like to be real with my kids and I think this book balanced both of those carefully and tastefully. (Again, please be a part of your kids reading selections as I'm sure we all have different standards.)
In closing, I am grateful for the experience of this book. It reminded me of some things I haven't discussed with my kids and it also took me back to a place I haven't been in a while- the elementary classroom.
Wishing you many frozen moments filled with good lessons and unforgettable take-aways as your family explores the story of Larger-than-Life Lara.
Lindsey Feldpausch :)
Disclosure: This post is in partnership with Tyndale Publishers. Opinions are 100% my own.