This short story written for middle readers is a gentle look at what happens when one girl stands up to her peers, and befriends an uncommon boy.
We follow Evelyn, a young Canadian girl, as she begins Grade 5. Evelyn lives with her father, who crumbles his crackers into his tomato soup “as if he’s lazy and in a hurry at the same time” and her Scottish mother, who “never breaks her crackers” or is in a hurry. “She is on top of things.”
Evelyn and her frugal mother take their annual trip, “as sure as Christmas,” to the shoe store, where Evelyn’s buttoned-up mother relents and finally buys Evelyn a pair of sneakers, rather than her usual school loafers. Evelyn is thrilled, even though the shoes don’t quite fit, and squeezes herself into them for the first day of school.
This year, however, Evelyn’s shoes aren’t the only thing that don’t quite fit. There’s a new student named Queen. He has long hair, and wears necklaces over a pink T-shirt and jeans with holes in the knees. He wants to start a club that plays chess one week, and works on a recycling plan for the school the next. His father has tattoos! Her classmates are horrified. Braving the scorn of her peers, Evelyn befriends the new boy with the unusual name, and his friendship inspires her to see the world differently, starting with her view of herself.
Evelyn is a kind and thoughtful kid, who loves language, and interesting facts, and is trying to figure out where she fits in the world. And make no mistake, the book is about her. The title is perhaps a little misleading, as Queen is definitely a supporting character. Readers looking for an earth shattering message about gender norms and stereotypes, or perhaps a story about a transgender child, will be disappointed, as the title is the most provocative part of the book. This is a quieter tale, about the gentle opening up of Evelyn’s life caused by her friendship with Queen, no more cataclysmic than the hole her growing feet create in her too-small sneakers.
Quiet or not however, the message of acceptance is profound. And children on the cusp of navigating the all-too-complicated world of tweenagers will appreciate Queen’s good advice to Evelyn:
“How do you stand it?” she asks once they’re walking again.
“I put up a force field. All around me. The dumb things they say — even the dumb things they think — bounce off it.”
“I’d like a force field like that.”
“Just make one. Imagine it. See it. Mine is turquoise.”
Evelyn closes her eyes. She imagines electricity spreading out from her, pushing Parker and Connor and their stupid words out, out, out.
It’s like she’s in an egg with a strong shell. It’s blue.
She opens her eyes again. She feels great!
“The force field works for good things, too,” Queen says. “But the opposite way. If someone says something nice to you, the field lets it in. Right into your heart.”
With its strong message of acceptance and growth, A Boy Named Queen will enter into your heart too, and do some serious good there.
A Boy Named Queen
More books for this Age Group can be found here.
My thanks to Groundwood Books for providing a Review Copy of this book. All opinions provided herein are my own.
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Emma has been, variously, a dancer, a singer, a lawyer, a writer, and a teacher. However her best job remains mom. She has a variety of advanced degrees she doesn’t use. She lives with her husband, their three teen-aged children, her nonagenarian father, a dog, and two cats, in a suburb of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where she reads, writes, and plays tennis. Not all at once.
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