Books & Literature

Book Review: Penny Draws a School Play, by Sara Shepard

MIDDLE GRADE: The second book in the humorous, heartfelt, highly illustrated series about a girl who doodles to cope with her anxiety, from #1 New York Times bestselling author Sara Shepard.

A lovely story about friendships and being brave. Perfect for the middle grade reader.

Feature image credit: Text Publishing

What a joy it is to see books reflecting real people, especially for children. Literature is now often showing us the real world in all its messiness and we can find books which let us know we are not alone.

Sara Shepard, a prolific American author, began writing her own books in 2005 and has written many adult fiction novels, two of which have been turned into a television series. She is now writing novels for a middle grade audience with her Penny Draws series.

Penny Draws a School Play is the second in the series, continuing on from Penny Draws a Best Friend, which was published in May 2023

Penny suffers from anxiety, which often stops her from doing the things she really wants to do. With the help of kind teachers, friends who support her, a loving family, and a dog called Cosmo who she tells all her thoughts to via a diary, Penny manages to get through each day relatively successfully.

Penny is in fifth grade at school and life has been pretty good for a while. She has not needed to write in her journal every day as her Feelings Teacher Mrs Hines had suggested. Her mum’s pregnancy with twins was going well, and Penny thought she might have a new best friend Maria after losing her friend Violet to Riley, the “mean” girl at school.

It is now January and the class is preparing for the traditional fifth-grade play. But the teacher, Mrs Dunphy, who usually chooses the play and the cast, then directs, is away having emergency hip surgery and they are getting a new teacher. Penny, who really does not like change also finds out that her parents have bought a new house to fit a bigger family and they need to move immediately.

And so begins Penny’s roller coaster of emotions as she has to deal with a new house, new siblings, a new teacher and a new friend who lives across the road. Change is not easy for Penny, and many children will relate to her worries.

We are privy to all Penny’s thoughts through her journal writing to Cosmo. We are taken on a ride as she grapples with her emotions and tries to remember all the tips she has learnt from Mrs Hines and her friends, like deep breathing and writing her worries in her diary.

Penny is dealing with a lot of things that many children her age will experience. Those children who are a bit anxious about new things, such as making friends and stepping out of their comfort zone, will find Penny very relatable.

Some of the text is written in cartoon form and this breaks up the pages, which would help those children who have difficulty with a whole page of writing. The illustrations throughout the book are childlike but manage to convey the story line. At 211 pages it is quite long, but the chapters are short, so a child can read and rest if needed.

Penny Draws a School Play is a lovely addition to what will probably be a big collection of Penny Draws books if Sara Shepard keeps writing at her usual pace.

Reviewed by Sue Mauger

The views expressed in this review belong to the author and not Glam Adelaide, its affiliates, or employees.

Distributed by: Text Publishing
Released: September 2023
RRP: $16.99

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