In this series, I explore books that have had a special meaning to me as a kid. It can be any book that tells a story that isn’t a board book, counting/alphabet book, and that is one I remember well. Of course, it should ideally be good too.
What are the books about?
This series features a ten-year-old girl named Abby Hayes. She loves writing and chapters are interspersed with detailed journal entries. She is a typical fifth grader in that she likes hanging out with her best friends, and struggles to stand out among her genius brother, athletic sister Eva and accomplished debator Isabelle. The first novel shows her going out for the soccer team and aiming to be a better player. Of course, she finds that her real talent is in writing and develops that during the series.
How did I discover them?
Nothing interesting to say here; I think my mom bought a few for me.
What I loved about the books
Abby liked to write, just like I did. I loved how the chapters were interspersed with her well-written diary entries and how she “reported” on things that were happening. She had a Hayes Book of World Records and wrote down quotes word-for-word. I also loved the characters. Mazer’s characterization was effortless and even minor classmates seemed well rounded…for the most part.
I’ve talked before how sometimes stand-alone children’s books in school, at least for me, became mundane. Many took place in rural areas, featured wacky relatives, traveling to Europe, took place in the first half of the century, fantasy worlds with Chosen Ones often in Middle East-ish settings, etc. I liked book series because they often deviated from this and discussed modern issues. Moving, wanting independence, siblings, schoolwork, and family are all discussed, and they’re not necessarily the same-old-same-old narratives. Abby herself is a different character than the MC we see so often. She has a bunch of friends rather than just one best friend. She’s not an outcast. She isn’t lower middle class; in fact, her family has considerable money by the time she’s in middle school. We see her utilize her talents instead of having her be a generic well-rounded character (even if she doesn’t always recognize that she has these talents).
Favorite memory involving the books
I can recall a time many years ago when I would go to an extended care program after doing summer camp at my school. I spent most of my time there browsing Scholastic’s Harry Potter website, but I also found a different minisite that way. It was called CJ’s Book Club, and at the time of discovery, “CJ” and her “friends” were reading book 10 of the series where Abby goes to visit her grandmother. I thought that was kind of cool, but I didn’t return to the website too many more times after the first few months.
How the books inspired me
I had once looked at starting a book series where the elementary-aged main character is an aspiring writer, but it hasn’t come to fruition yet. And of course, I feel like I owe it to every book I’ve read where characters keep journals for wanting to keep one of my own. Abby’s entries add a lot of insightful thoughts to the plotlines.
My thoughts on the books today
I love this series, but a few glaring issues stand out to me today.
- The big elephant in the room here is how Abby is in fifth grade twice, or three times even. As much as I loved the books, reading them in order there are MASSIVE continuity errors. We see Abby go on summer vacation twice and meet Hannah during the second summer, and then they go into fifth grade again and become best friends now that her friend Jessica has moved away. This needed some extra attention because it is really confusing. Readers can’t even chalk it up to having Abby be in fourth grade for the first few books, moving on to fifth after book 5 along with Ms. Kantor, because she spends an entire school year in fifth grade with Hannah and then one without Jessica–thank you, holiday novel for making this clear– so presenting an alternative doesn’t work. She also does not become friends with Bethany until their second go-round in fifth grade after they bond during the first summer, but you can’t just ignore everything that happened between them leading up to it either. It’s a mess.
- Brianna, the Mary Sue. She’s too perfect–models, speaks French, has money, is a great soccer player, is a great actress lauded among her community, and rarely gets her just desserts. Characters like that make my skin crawl.
- It saddens me that one of the last books is about Abby being jealous of an iPhone. Yay, a book about kids playing on their phones?
I really do like these novels, but the flaws stick out looking back. A TV series would be great, though.