Jada Jones Rock Star – Kelly Starling Lyons and Vanessa Brantley Newton, Penguin Workshop, 2017
In this first volume of three Jada Jones stories, with a fourth to be released in the spring, Kelly Starling Lyons introduced her bright and appealing fourth grade heroine. Jada is as consumed by her interest in rocks as by a deep sense of loss when her best friend Mari moves away. Even with supportive parents and a younger brother who looks up to her, Jada can’t shake the blues even though her father, a blues musician as well as an engineer, has assured her that the blues “don’t last forever.” Her librarian mom’s empathy and involvement are also imperfect substitutes for her missing companion. Young readers who have endured the pain of competition for friends will easily relate to Jada’s situation. For all her fascination with sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic rocks, her sadness feeling like half of a pair seems overwhelming.
Starling Lyon’s text is simple, suitable for early chapter book readers, but she pairs kids’ language with subtle metaphors, adding depth to Jada’s story. Jada’s forced smile is “All teeth with no joy,” and her persistent feelings about her friend become “my missing-Mari ache was back.” On the more positive side, her joy in geology is totally believable, as she rhapsodizes about the mineral specimens which Mari sends her: “Light green and sharp like the point of a star. Peach and grainy like glitter mixed with sand. Blue with stripes like ocean waves.” As Jada begins to hope that her friendship with science project partners Lena and Simone might bring back her sense of belonging, she learns that people have different ways of responding when they feel hurt or threatened. Starling Lyon has created a young female character who loves science and is also a social being, not a caricature of intellect without feelings.
Another selling point of this engaging book: it’s purple. The illustrations are black and white drawings with purple elements, including a t-shirts, a lunch bag, and even her classmate’s beautiful black curls. Jada writes in a lavender science journal, and her friend Mari’s letters appear in blocks of purple font. Brantley Newton’s cast of characters are examples of her inimitable joyous style (I reviewed another of her beautiful books here). Even anger and sadness are part of a range of emotions to be embraced and celebrated. Jada and her possible nemesis Simone face one another, Simone’s arms crossed defensively and Jada clutching her purple backpack in anger.
Later, all three girls jump rope together, having resolved their differences, Jada having learned an important truth: “Each time I sailed over the rope, I felt a thrill kind of like finding a stone. I never thought of jumping and rock hunting as having something in common.”
Jada Jones Rock Star acknowledges the difficulties and the joys of childhood for early chapter book readers. Caregivers and educators will recognize Jada’s dilemma and remember the tough spots when kids learn about empathy. The book concludes with a purple list of “Jada’s Rules for Being a Rock Star,” perfect for sharing and discussion.