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The Heart and Mind of Frances Pauley Hardcover – February 6, 2018
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"A moving depiction of unique characters, grief, and the benevolent power of forgiveness. "— Kirkus, starred review
“If a novel can show the growth of a soul, this one does it. Frances begins this story almost literally in a cave; she ends it with the discovery of how unexpectedly wide the world can be. To cheer for her growth—painful as it is—is to cheer for our own possibilities.” —Gary D. Schmidt, three-time Newbery Honor–winning author
“Filled with indelible characters, this lyrical novel about acceptance and what it means to be truly kind will resonate with readers on a deeply emotional level.” —Stephanie Hemphill, Michael L. Printz Honor Award winner
About the Author
April Stevens is the author of the acclaimed novel for adults, Angel Angel. She also is the author of the picture books Waking up Wendell, illustrated by Tad Hills, and Edwin Speaks Up, illustrated by Sophie Blackall. She lives in Northwestern Connecticut with her husband, the writer Alexander Neubauer, and their two children.
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Figgrotten spends her time atop rocks behind her home; it was “…where she felt most herself …” The life and studies of Margaret Mead, the anthropologist, inspire Figgrotten who loves to learn and to study those around her. Like many sisters, Figgrotten and her older sibling Christinia are so dissimilar that conflicts inevitably arise. Christinia tells her friends Figgrotten is “…an ugly freak …” and that “…she was adopted …” not only hurt Figgrotten, it “…seared her, and burned her like a hot pan …” In Figgrotten’s view, “…there was a lot of meanness happening in middle school …”
Figgrotten thinks of the school bus driver, Alvin, as her best friend and confidant; she rides directly behind him and the two discuss books and life. School is a challenge for Figgrotten who must temper her enthusiasm and always having the right answer so her classmates will participate. Her fourth grade teacher Mr. Stanley understands Figgrotten and allows her the freedom to be original.
When a new student, James, proves to be as intelligent as Figgrotten, she must deal with the jealous feelings this engenders. As she begins to develop a friendship with another girl in her class, Figgrotten starts to understand the importance of companionship. “…It was like inching out into another world one tiny step at a time …” When Fiona leaves Figgrotten’s home after a day of cookie baking, Figgrotten realizes “…everything seemed a bit dull now that she was alone …” Further, she begins to empathize with James and to see that he feels as isolated as she once did. She is surprised at her own feelings once she says hi to him. It “…made her feel like a weight had been lifted …there was that little bridge …she could cross over …”
Figgrotten’s growing acceptance of others allows her to see her sister’s actions in a different light. In doing so, she is able to reconcile with Christinia and to ask her help. A tragedy that will cause any reader having a heart to tear-up and Figgrotten’s understanding that others, who differ from familiar people, may have valuable skills draw her story to a satisfying conclusion.
April Stevens has given readers of any age a lovely story that contains multiple lessons about growing up and accepting others. It stresses the value of friendship and family; language and situations are appropriate for the target 8 – 12 year-old audience. I loved Figgrotten, her attitude, her inquisitive nature, and her ability to change for the better. She is very real and exhibits very real emotions.
What I liked the most about the book was it’s genuine tone; there isn’t a false note here. The adults are supportive and loving in Frances’ life. She grapples with being different and having preferences which veer off from her peers. This is a charming slice of life story that will stay with me a long time. Delightful.
Per my granddaughter, Frances is in the 5th grade and is observing the world around her while trying to figure out how she fits into it. She calls herself Figgrotten. She finds herself trying to outdo the new boy in school. This combined with other issues at home, like her older sister and the death of a loved one, Frances is feeling unloved. But things turn around as she begins to come into her own.