Fifth graders are funny creatures. Gertie Reece Foy, in particular, is one of a kind. Gertie’s Leap to Greatness, by Kate Beasley and featuring illustrations by the extremely talented Jillian Tamaki, features a small but fierce little girl who is on an Odyssean quest. Gertie lives with her Aunt Rae in a small town in Alabama. Aunt Rae hands out Twinkies for breakfast and solid life advice. Gertie’s father, Frank Foy, is gone most of the time working on an oil rig, but he loves his daughter very much. Gertie’s mother lives in the same town as Gertie, but Gertie has never met her. When Gertie sees that a “For Sale” sign is put up in front of her mother’s house, she hatches a plan to make sure her mother notices her, to show her mother that “Gertie Foy was one-hundred-percent, not-from-concentrate awesome and that she didn’t need a mother anyway.” The first part of this plan involves a bullfrog in a shoebox and an epic speech in front of her classmates. But when she shows up for the first day of school, a very prim and priss Mary Sue Spivey, the daughter of a Hollywood film director, has already stolen the show—and her seat.
Gertie, much like Ramona (of Beverly Cleary) and Matilda (of Roald Dahl) is one determined and hilarious little whippersnapper of a girl. Here she is giving herself a pep talk on the first day of school:
“And it was the reason why, when she woke up on the first morning of fifth grade, she launched herself out of bed, ran to the bathroom, and brushed her teeth with extra froth in front of the mirror.
Gertie had brown hair which she wore in a ponytail that stuck straight out of the top of her head, which encouraged blood flow to her brain, which made her have lots of ideas. She also had a biggish nose and a pointy chin. She had freckles on her face, and she had elbows halfway down her arms. As always, she looked exactly like herself.
She pointed her toothbrush at her reflection. ‘This is your moment,’ she said, and she wiped away her toothpaste beard.”
Heartbreaking and laugh-out-loud funny, Gertie’s epic journey through fifth grade is full of Twinkies, bullfrogs, and harebrained schemes. Greatness, Gertie discovers, is not taken in leaps and bounds, but in smalls steps of the heart.