I am officially hooked on this well crafted new series for middlegrade readers (aged 8+), which shines a light on friendship, family, adjusting to change, managing anxiety, and finding your place in the world. It's the way these universal themes are dealt with that feels fresh and unique.
For me the beating heart of these stories is the narrator, Michaela, whose voice is warm, funny and perfectly pitched for the intended age group. Michaela keeps lists in order to manage her worries.
In book one, Michaela Mason and her mum have moved to a new home in the country. Michaela is struggling to adjust to the changes, missing her old school, friends and activities in Sydney. The worst part is that in the country it might be impossible to avoid some of the things that worry her the most, like snakes, spiders, having no friends and DOGS! When the Pretty Posse take Michaela under their wing on the first day of school, Michaela is relieved that she has friends to hang out with. However, she soon starts to realise that their friendship might come at a cost. It is lovely to see Michaela's' character development throughout this book as she comes to understand the true meaning of friendship and starts to face her number one fear - DOGS!
In book two, Michaela and her classmates are off to camp. Michaela has a whole new list of camp worries - including navigating the Treacherous Tree, and her friend Soo-min discovering that she lied about being a good climber. When she gets to camp, Michaela is dismayed that she is placed in a cabin with the Pretty Posse - with whom she is no longer on good terms. Will she find a way to gather her inner courage and face her fears?
More is revealed about some of the supporting characters in book number 2 and I also loved seeing their character development. It was also lovely to see the way Michaela came to understand the value of being honest about your worries with people you trust. Michaela comes to see that she has her own strengths and talents, with creative outlets being a way to help manage her anxiety.
There were many genuinely funny moments in both books that had me laughing out loud. There were shades of Hating Alison Ashley in book 2 (which is high praise, because I hold this book up as a near perfect example of the way in which darker themes can be presented with both light and shade).
Michaela is a thoroughly likeable and relatable character. She has flaws - as all of us do - and doesn't always say or do the right thing - but she has a good heart and learns from mistakes. Side characters are also well drawn and we are shown glimpses of light and shade, revealing that sometimes all is not as it seems on the surface. Young readers will learn not to be so quick to judge others.
I love the celebration of language in these books, with Michaela making lists of new and unusual words to work into conversations.
Many young readers will comfort in some of the suggestions presented in these books to cope with stressful situations, like deep breathing, making lists, talking to others, and being honest about fears. I have no doubt these books will be reassuring for young readers who also are unsure how to handle and manage their worries and reassure them that it is okay to be anxious about trying new things.
I can't wait to see what Michaela Mason does next and what fears she is able to tackle and overcome.
Published by Scholastic Australia