I’m a fan of literature in general, but because my focus is learning to write books for middle-grades, I’ve spent much more time reading books for that age in the past year. I don’t often blog about other books unless I feel one falls into the must-read category. I decided to take a flier on Say It Out Loud by Allison Varnes https://www.amazon.com/Say-Out-Loud-Allison-Varnes/dp/152477152X after reading a review by writer/blogger Rosi Hollinbeck on her blog. https://rosihollinbeck.com/blog/
While I taught, I often looked for children’s books that embedded real-life lessons about kids in an entertaining and captivating manner. This excellent book, published in 2021, falls into that category of books that would have become an annual read with my class.
Charlotte Andrews and her best friend, Maddie, are anxious about starting middle school. The two are inseparable pals and find comfort in knowing they are beginning a new experience with a trusted friend. Much of Charlotte’s anxiety has to do with self-consciousness about her stuttering—a condition that appears more often whenever she is nervous. She wants to be a normal kid—not one pulled out of class by a speech teacher for being different. Charlotte’s stuttering is a non-issue for Maddie, who doesn’t think her friend’s speech is something to feel shame over.
When the girls are riding on the bus for their first day of sixth grade, they witness two bullies, Tristan and Ben, looking for kids to pick on. Maddie decides she will put a stop to something she knows is wrong. While Charlotte knows Maddie is a good citizen, she fears that the bullies may come after them if the girls report the boys’ misdeeds.
Maddie decides to do exactly that, and many kids, including Charlotte, are called to the principal to describe what they saw on the bus. Tristan and Ben, already sitting in the office, deduce that the girls are the ones who must have told on them. Unfortunately, not enough students come forward to verify Maddie’s report, and the boys turn their bullying on Charlotte and Maddie.
One day, without thinking of the repercussions, Charlotte decides to sit away from Maddie on the bus, and the boys harass Maddie to no end, bringing her to tears. Not only is Maddie devastated by the bullying, but even more hurt that her friend has left her to fend for herself. Charlotte immediately regrets her decision, but Maddie is so hurt she wants nothing to do with Charlotte anymore.
Charlotte tries to make things right the next day by apologizing to her friend and sitting with her, but Maddie isn’t having any of it. As the year transpires, Charlotte begins to make new friends after joining an after-school club to put on a musical theater production of The Wizard of Oz. Charlotte doesn’t stutter when singing and feels alive and good about herself, finding the courage to try out for the role of Glinda, the good witch. While Charlotte doesn’t get the part, she earns a minor role in the play. She misses her friend and attempts several times to find her voice to get Maddie to accept her apology.
Charlotte is encouraged by her English teacher and play director, Mrs. Harper, to find her voice for writing and life matters. Charlotte begins leaving positive notes anonymously for other kids in the school, often signing them—The Biggest Chicken at Carol Burnett Middle. She witnesses the effect that her positive thoughts have on others’ attitudes. She even goes as far as leaving Tristan, the bully, a compliment when she sees him struggling with a problem. While Charlotte’s words don’t influence everyone, they seem to make a difference for some kids. Positive notes written by other children begin popping up on campus as Charlotte’s big idea grows.
When Charlotte learns that the school board may discontinue the musical theater group the following year to concentrate on raising reading test scores, she organizes a letter-writing campaign toward all the influential people they can think of to try and save the program. I don’t want to spoil the ending of this excellent novel, but I will say it was not a predictable conclusion.
Varnes does a masterful job of creating believable characters, dealing with real-life problems that middle-school children can relate to. There were so many valuable takeaways for kids to learn from this book. The overriding lesson is that it takes courage to speak up when you see something wrong, even when that choice may fly in the face of those who are more popular or influential.
I offer my congratulations to Allison Varnes for writing a book that matters. https://www.amazon.com/Say-Out-Loud-Allison-Varnes/dp/152477152X In my opinion, it is precisely the kind of literature that children need to read more because it deals with the things that many of them experience daily. I’m sure that many children, particularly in grades 4-7, would love this book.