Lynn: It’s been quite a while since I’ve fallen as hard for a character as I’ve fallen for Gertie Reece Foy! She bounced off the pages of Kate Beasley’s debut novel, Gertie’s Leap to Greatness (2016), and right into my heart. Gertie is a force of nature: exuberant, loud, and confident. And she’s a girl on a mission. When she sees the “For Sale” sign on her mother’s house on Jones Street, “Gertie decided to become the greatest fifth grader in the whole school, world, and universe.”
Gertie has a five-phase plan that begins with the first day of school. She knows that fifth grade is her moment—but she didn’t count on the arrival of the California seat-stealer, Mary Sue Spivey, who turns Gertie’s triumph into disaster and her school year into misery. Gertie’s best intentions keep backfiring in moments that are at once hilarious and heartbreaking.
Her mother may have left, but Gertie does have a loyal friend, a great dad, a loving aunt Rae, and an unshakable sense of determination. Beasley’s writing seems simple, but the characters reveal themselves to the readers with each skillfully chosen word and phrase. Gertie is achingly authentic, her personality evident in the clear depiction of her flaws and strengths. For r me, there is no question about Gertie’s quest—she is already great!
Cindy: I’ve been in a reading funk, and just haven’t been able to sink into stories lately, but then Lynn slid this book across the table to me. Gertie was just the ticket! Middle-grade readers are going to be hooked by the opening line: “The bullfrog was only half dead, which was perfect.” When you launch a story with a half-dead bullfrog, a turkey baster, and a determined and enthusiastic fifth-grader and end up with a zombie frog, you have a winner on your hands. By the end of the book, despite all of her setbacks, Gertie proclaims that “Fifth grade was a dragon, and she had beaten it like a piñata.”
Gertie wrestles with an interesting contemporary issue in one of the story’s subplots. Her father works on an oil rig in two-week shifts while Gertie and Aunt Rae hold down the fort at home. When Career Day rolls around, Gertie is excited to share details of her father’s work with the class. Once again, Mary Sue Spivy ruins the day with her mother’s presentation about being a political lobbyist working against the oil rigs due to their environmental impact. The perspective of both sides of the issue is handled well for its audience.
The cover art and illustrations sprinkled throughout the story are the work of Jillian Tamaki, who won a Printz Honor and Caldecott Honor for the graphic novel This One Summer. Her drawings evoke the charm of classic children’s book illustrations like those of Ramona the Pest while nodding to more current, popular middle-grade graphic novel art. Tamaki’s style, like Gertie, is exactly like herself. And it’s perfect. Give ’em hell, ladies. We can’t wait for the next adventure.