Anyone who's been around my son for any length of time will notice that he has an active and vivid imagination. It's a trait I love and try to protect --- where would we be if two brothers didn't imagine it was possible to fly? Imagine how much duller the library would be if there were only non-fiction books? Speaking of books, our latest review is title by Barbour Publishing. Its heroine, Emma Jean (she prefers EJ) Payne gives us a glimpse into her fourth grade life, her imaginary world, and the sometimes hilarious intersections of the two in Diary of a Real Payne Book 1: True Story ($5.99)
The softback book has 15 chapters ( 8-12 pages each) with a substantial diary entry at the beginning to introduce us to EJ and her family. The recommended age level is 8 to 12, but I got several chuckles reading it on my own -- like when EJ dresses up as Anne of Green Gables only to win a prize for the best fast food costume (they thought she was Wendy of hamburger fame). My son had no troubles reading this to himself -- especially after I clued him in on the different fonts representing different things: the child's printing is EJ writing in her diary, the normal font is a third person narrative of EJ's adventures, the italicized font takes place in EJ's imagination. In the "real world" EJ shops for school supplies, goes to family camp, gets a role in the Christmas play, and deals with a grumpy, elderly neighbor. In her imaginary world EJ can be a race car driver, a beautician, a helicopter pilot, an astronaut, and a pioneer who meets Laura Ingalls. My son didn't have any issues about this being a "girl book" -- EJ is pretty tomboyish.
When my son finished, I asked him to tell me his favorite part(s). He was drawn to the passages where EJ lets her imagination run wild, but he did pick up that there is a time and a place for such activity and other times when it's better to concentrate on real life.
The back cover categorizes the book as Juvenile Fiction/Religious/Christian/General. It's true that EJ's father is a pastor, EJ's neighbor reads her the story of Esther, and the play tells the nativity story, but I don't think any kid is going to feel like you are trying to sneak in a sermon if you hand them this book. EJ's a normal kid that doesn't get along with her brother and whines about folding laundry, she's sometimes so distracted by her imaginary world that accidents happen. But hidden within the pages you'll find themes like obedience, respect for others, and doing good deeds -- and you can't say that about a lot of books marketed to kids these days. We look forward to the next book, Diary of a Real Payne: Church Camp Chaos coming out next March.
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