Tuesday, November 1, 2022

New Kids and Underdogs - a review 11.01.22

"We all need each other.  Because we are all sort of one, but also sort of not one.  Basically, we are a pack...of roots." 
                    - New Kids and Underdogs by Margaret Finnegan pg. 212

New Kids and Underdogs by Margaret Finnegan
New Kids and Underdogs
by Margaret Finnegan
published by Atheneum Books

Are you looking for a book that will grip your readers?  Look no further!  This heartprint story and the unforgettable characters will keep readers turning the page and leave feeling a little smarter and like they've made another friend.

Fifth-grader Robyn is the perpetual new kid.   In fact, she's gone through being new at so many schools, she's now made up some rules for herself.  Rules that will perhaps help her avoid previous mistakes and help her succeed at her new school in California.  Robyn wants so badly to succeed because this school, finally, is supposed to be the school that she is going to stay at.  Being new and fitting in could be the book all alone.  But, every plot needs to have foils.

Foil #1:  Dogs.  Robyn has two Jack Russell terrier mixed rescue dogs: Fudge and Sundae.  The love and friendship between the dogs and Robyn is a beautiful thing.  The dogs are so loving, and are a wonderful unit between them and Robyn.  Each dog has their own challenges.  They were both rescued from a place that created trauma and an environment that did not allow either dog to thrive.  Fudge is deaf and partially blind.  He relies on Sundae, especially when in an unfamiliar environment.  Sundae suffers from anxiety and being with Fudge helps calm that fear.  Both challenges bring up the subject of living - and thriving - with a disability.  Robyn understands her dogs challenges, but also comes to learn more about the range of disabilities and challenges of her peers.  The subject of disabilities is well done and author Margaret Finnegan brings up great viewpoints.  She helps readers understand, through the characters, that they are more than their disability.  It's part of who they are, but there are many other parts that make up the person/animal.

Foil #2:  Agility training for dogs.  Right away, Robyn comes across an agility class being held nearby for dogs.  Both her and Sundae are entranced by what they see.  Robyn looks into it, but the instructor does not think her dogs can do it based on one thing: their disabilities.  But it's the instructor's grandson, Nestor - Robyn's classmate - who sees more than the dogs' disabilities.  Nestor starts training the dogs himself and instead of it being called agility class, it's ability class.  I love the twist that makes all the difference for the dogs and Robyn.  It's through these new classes that Robyn learns more about herself and makes her go back through those new kid rules she had established.  One of my favorite quotes, "Dog training wasn't a way to impose a person's will upon a dog.  It was about learning to communicate with another species and learning to listen as that species communicated with you." - pg. 234.

All of these things come together to make a wonderful story.  I loved so many lines that made me pause and think about them.  Lots of great social-emotional lessons and things to talk about when thinking about people - the parts you see on the outside and what you don't see on the inside.  This book makes a great read aloud and is easy to book talk.  No doubt it will be a favorite among readers!  Be sure to send readers to Margaret Finnegan's website, she has lots of resources and linked below are tips to train dogs!

More praise for New Kids and Underdogs:

A thoughtful story about learning to look beneath the surface and be a better friend.” —Kirkus

A Junior Library Guild Selection

Margaret Finnegan is the author of We Could Be Heroes and Susie B. Won’t Back Down, both Junior Library Guild Selections. Her other works have appeared in FamilyFun Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, Salon, and other publications. She lives in South Pasadena, California, where she enjoys spending time with her family, walking her dog, and baking really good chocolate cakes. To learn more, and to download free discussion guides, visit MargaretFinnegan.com.

Twitter: @FinneganBegin

Instagram: @finneganbegin

Just like the kids in New Kids & Underdogs, you can ability train your dog! Check out the fun tips here!

Thank you to Barbara at Blue Slip Media for the review copy.

Instagram: @blue_slip_media

Facebook: Blue Slip Media

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