Mighty Reader Makes the Grade by Will Hillenbrand

Mighty Reader Makes the Grade by Will Hillenbrand. Holiday House, 2021. 9780823444991

Rating:  1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 2

Format: Hardcover picture book

What did you like about the book? The night before a big state test, Lulu has a test-anxiety-fueled nightmare.  Mighty Reader flies to the rescue, and the two dogs start reading aloud together using “Partner Power” to combat the evil test monsters.  Most of the monsters are tamed, except the Evil Eye, who has no use for books and taunts “Flunk her! Flunk her!”  Mighty Reader hurls insults at it to distract it, and together he and Lulu find a way to extinguish its power.  Lulu wakes up and heads to school, exhausted from her rough night.  Her teacher reviews some choices for calming centers to help students get ready for the big test.  Lulu chooses the library center (and promptly falls asleep).  When her classmate Barkley inadvertently revives her fear of the Evil Eye, Mighty Reader reappears just in time, reminding Lulu about Partner Power and inspiring the teacher to introduce the technique as a test-taking strategy.  Tips for using Partner Power to read together as a way to calm nerves before a big test are delineated.

Little kids will love the comic book style of this picture book, as well as the super cute dog characters, but the plot is disjointed and busy, and the message falls flat.  The format suggests that the book is targeted at a PreK-1st grade audience, an age group that in general is not subject to statewide or national standardized testing, so those readers won’t understand the story, and will also struggle with some higher level vocabulary and idioms.  But older readers who may need some bibliotherapy when it comes to test anxiety won’t find much help in the Partner Power strategy (as tests are completed independently) unless they interpret the suggestions to ‘slow down and listen’ and ‘read the whole book’ as something they can do on their own.   

Anything you did not like about the book?  The first Mighty Reader book had similar flaws – well-intentioned metafiction that doesn’t really hit the mark for the intended audience.  However, it has been a popular checkout for students in lower grades, due no doubt to the dog superhero (bearing a strong resemblance to Underdog) on the cover, so I had hoped the second book would be an improvement.  

To whom would you recommend this book? Kids who have read the first book will probably find it worth a look.

Who should buy this book? Public and elementary school libraries

Where would you shelve it?  Picture books

Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles?  No

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City:  Leigh Russell King, Lincoln Street School, Northborough, Massachusetts.

Date of review: December 30, 2021

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