One of the things I admire most about Kylie Jean is the way she goes to her friends and family for help. Together, she and her cousin and friends figure out how to cope with the mean new girl without stooping to mean-girl tactics, in Kylie Jean: Drama Queen by Marci Peschke, illus. by Tuesday Mourning. In Kylie Jean: Blueberry Queen, she asks her cousin (a different, older cousin) to help her register for the Blueberry Queen contest, then calls upon her grandparents for assistance—her photographer grandfather for a picture, and her other grandparents for sponsorship. Kylie Jean also asks a neighbor she admires to write a recommendation for her. The heroine models a strategy that can be very helpful to children of this age, who are making fledgling attempts toward independence. She asks for help from people she trusts. Clara Lee also does this in Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream when she seeks out her grandfather as her trusted advisor.
That awkward transition to doing things on their own is easier for both Kylie Jean and Clara Lee because of the roles their families play in helping them achieve their goals. Kylie Jean makes a list of tasks to complete in Blueberry Queen, and enlists her family or friends with specific skills to help with each. In the case of Clara Lee, it’s self-confidence she needs—to believe she, too, deserves to represent her town, not because her family helped to found the town (like her rival’s family did), but because she sees herself as an integral part of its community. And then she must summon the courage to give a speech. But once she overcomes the first crisis of confidence, the second feels easy.
It’s sometimes hard to find strong books for this age group because so few drill down to these essential issues of blossoming independence. But Kylie Jean, Clara Lee, Dessert Schneider from Dessert First, Clementine, and Ivy and Bean can be strong guides through rough waters.