Realistic fiction fans who enjoyed Junie B. Jones, Ramona, and Fudge, will be quickly drawn in by the humor and insight of Pearl Littlefield, the protagonist of this new book by Ann M. Martin, author of favorite series that include Main Street and the Baby-Sitters Club. Pearl’s first writing assignment of fifth grade provides the vehicle for a sensitive and often funny tale of a summer vacation that begins with her father losing his job as an economics professor, and ends with her going into business with her best friend. Readers will surely see themselves and their own travails in Pearl’s complaints about her older sister, Lexie, and uncertainty about how to patch things up with her best friend, JBIII, following a fight at a waterpark.
Martin writes about the serious theme of a parent’s unemployment in a way that is thoughtful and age-appropriate, without dragging down the overall light-hearted tone of this book. Intermittent illustrations, letters, and tween-style lists add appeal to the narrative, and a section at the end of the book provides information on the New York City sites Pearl and her family visit during a staycation. The novel’s title, presumably selected to provide continuity with Martin’s first book featuring Pearl Littlefield, Ten Rules for Living with My Sister, does not accurately describe the story. This, however, is a minor weakness in an otherwise first-rate book that will be most appreciated by fourth through sixth graders. 2012