This review was first published in Resource Links Magazine, “Canada’s national journal devoted to the review and evaluation of Canadian English and French resources for children and young adults.” It appears in volume 21.1.
Never Give Up
Illustrated by Qin Leng.
Never Give Up is the second book in Second Story Press’s new I’m A Great Little Kid series, following Fifteen Dollars and Thirty-five Cents: A Story About Choices and preceding Reptile Flu: A Story About Communication. The series is “designed to empower children to think and act in positive ways” (Second Story website), and so far does an excellent job at achieving this goal. In addition to stories that will engage and instruct child readers, the series includes a Facilitator’s Guide, and teachers can attend corresponding workshops through the Boost: Child and Youth Advocacy Centre (information found at their website).
In Never Give Up, Nadia watches her friend Shaun struggling to learn to ride a bike. She watches as their other friends laugh and tease him, and watches Shaun try, and try, and try again. Ashamed at herself for not defending him, Nadia brings her Dad to come and teach him. Shaun’s perseverance pays off, and he learns to ride on his own.
The cycle of Shaun trying, failing, being teased, trying, falling and skinning his knees, then (with Nadia’s help) finally succeeding, is paralleled by Nadia’s father. He joins the children, trying to jump rope, failing, stumbling and skinning his elbow, then receiving aid from Nadia, who had brought Band-Aids “just in case.” This narrative structure, with the final giggle of Nadia providing first aid for her father, telling him to “try again,” solidifies the message that perseverance is a life skill even adults need to practice.
There is just something so honest in Cole’s characters and their stories. Her children are real, her adults compassionate and reasonable without being sappy. The bullies are not evil, just thoughtless friends. In Reptile Flu, the third book in the series, Kamal regrets teasing Shaun, when he is afraid of being teased himself. A subtle little moment can have a great impact on the reader, and Cole’s stories provide a number of such learning moments.