In 2012 I reviewed Libby of High Hopes, written and illustrated by Elise Primavera, calling it a gem of a book. In the almost eleven-year-old Libby, Primavera created a character who, in her struggle to get what she newly discovers she wants most in the world, must also confront her own shortcomings and disappointment. Libby Thump is one of the most genuine literary girls I have encountered in my years as a reader and reviewer and I am thrilled to be reviewing the sequel to Libby of High Hopes, Project Blue Ribbon. In both books, Primavera sets challenges for Libby that are both thoughtful and thought provoking. She creates stories that are perfect conversation starters, encouraging readers to think about who they are as people and what living up to one's potential really means as Libby's story unfolds.
At the start of Libby of High Hopes: Project Blue Ribbon, Libby is still grappling with the challenges of applying herself, paying attention and living up to her potential. These are words that her fourth grade teacher wrote on her report card at the end of the year and now, more than half the way through the new school year, Libby is realizing that she still needs to work on paying attention and following directions. But at High Hopes Horse Farm, Libby knows that she is living up to her potential. She is riding Princess and jumping her, and she might even be good enough to enter a competition and win a blue ribbon! But, as quickly as good things come, they are gone. Libby finds out that she will have to start riding the cranky, feisty pony Saddleshoes and that the High Hope Horse Farm is struggling to make ends meet. Libby dreams up "Project Blue Ribbon," her plan to have students from High Hopes win big at the next competition and attract new students and boarders to her beloved High Hopes. And, of course, gain that coveted first place ribbon for herself. But, things don't go at all as Libby had planned or hoped.
How Libby copes with changes and disappointments, making new friends and having troubles with old friends, are what make Primavera's books so dear to my heart. No, Libby does not face some of the more dramatic and heartbreaking life challenges that characters in so many contemporary Newbery award winning books do, but she does face real life issues that kids who come from a loving, if financially challenged family face. Libby has the luxury of having the space to think about who she is as a person and how she can become the person she wants to be, but she also has to learn that just because she can think it doesn't mean she can do it. She makes plans, but life has other plans. As her father, who lost his landscaping business in the last book and had to go to work for another company, says to her during a heart to heart, "None of us likes it - but things are constantly changing and we have to adapt - including me."
That's another thing that I love about Primavera's Libby books - the role that adults play in the novels. They are not absent or off the page, as in many (especially fantasy) kid's books. They are present and very real. Sal, the owner of High Hopes and riding instructor, doesn't hide his frustrations over the lack of income that running a horse farm entails. The new girl, Amanda, has a mother who is a bit of a stage parent, telling Sal how to instruct her daughter, but she is not two dimensional in this. Readers learn that she is also a single mother to three children working hard to keep her family afloat - and keep her daughter on track to a career as an equestrian. There is even Mr. McClave, the elderly rider who boards his horse at High Hopes who talks to Libby about learning from your horse, rather than teaching the horse. He tells her that he learned patience and how to listen to the horse from General George. Libby takes in all that she learns and tries to make sense of it an apply it to her life, but as she learns in one heartbreaking moment, sometimes there is just too much life happening at once to remember important things like paying attention and following directions, and that is a learning experience, too.
Two books in, and I love Libby and would love to see her grow up a little bit more. I never was and am not now a horse person, but I am a people person. As a kid I read to learn about people - how they live, how they act, how they learn and grow up, no matter where or what time period they were from. And as an adult, I have a deep appreciation for a children's book that can show these experiences and even teach a few, subtle lessons along the way.
More chapter books by Elise Primavera:
The Secret Order of the Gumm Street Girls
Picture books written & illustrated by Elise Primavera:
Picture books written by Elise Primavera:
Source: Review Copy