“Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker” by Shelley Johannes is a lovely chapter book for young readers who want some pictures with their text. Johannes’ artwork provides plenty of visual cues that are amazingly effective even though they are in black, grey and orange. The “pink” dress looks amazingly pink even though it’s orange!
The star of the show is the title character, Beatrice Zinker. Born into a very upright, very stiff, very conforming family, Beatrice was different from the moment she was born. She did her best thinking upside down, unlike her very upright family.
Even her first word was upside down. Instead of “mom,” Beatrice said, “wow.” Johannes cleverly uses language, with rhyme whenever possible. On the first page she explains,
“It worked like poof.
It worked like presto.
It worked like shazam–
on every problem,
every pickle, and
each and every jam.”
Beatrice and her best friend Lenny are just finishing second grade. They have big plans for third grade, but when they finally meet on the first day of school (Lenny has been out of the country visiting family), Lenny has changed. She is no longer the fun-loving ninja girl. Lenny dresses like the other kids and has a new (best?) friend who is very upstanding.
Will Beatrice be able to get Lenny’s friendship back? Will she be able to get along with her new third-grade teacher, who does not seem to appreciate creativity and upside-down-ness? Will the fabulous plans that Beatrice and Lenny had concocted go to waste?
Find that out and more in this first episode of the “Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker” series. This book would be a great read aloud to open the way for discussion about differences — different types of thinkers, dressers, and behaviors. It’s important to get young children thinking about and discussing conformity and non-conformity. While children notice differences in skin color and culture at a young age, studies have shown that having open discussions about differences is important in shaping a culture of tolerance and acceptance.
This book can help accomplish just that. So besides the cute artwork, the wonderful story, and the clever language, the story also can be part of a social agenda — introducing children to the differences all around them.
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by Disney-Hyperion Books, the publisher, for review purposes.