Ava is 10 years old and in the 5th Grade; her older sister, Pip, is in the 7th Grade. Ava and Pip is really Ava’s story. At one point Ava hypothesizes:
The key might be to know, in your heart and your head, what you want to say and how you want to say it, and then to just trust that it will come out right if you write and rewrite and rerewrite.
This is a perfect description of Ava’s own story. Her family loves wordplay–palindromes, anagrams, puns, etc. and Ava’s diary entries use many of those devices to explore what it means to find and use her own voice. Along the way she also shares with us the way in which Pip discovers and begins to use her voice as well.
Anyone with a sibling can identify with Ava as she writes about her conflicting feelings about Pip. She aches for her sister when she sees how sad and lonely she is. She also feels a little jealous of the extra attention her parents seem to give Pip in order to help her break out of her sadness and her crippling shyness with people outside the family. This conflict of feelings rises up in Ava when a new student in Pip’s class throws a party the same day as Pip’s birthday party. Ava is outraged on her sister’s behalf when, one by one, Pip’s friends cancel their plans with her in order to go to the other party. Because Ava is a writer she uses the written word to experiment with her own voice about the situation. She writes a fable about a “Queen Bea” for a school contest that only vaguely conceals the identity of the new student at the center of Pip’s current distress. The moral Ava gives to her story is: “There is no shortcut to true friendship.”
When Ava’s story is published along with some of the other story entries from the contest the student about whom Ava has written (Bea Bates) recognizes herself in Ava’s story and confronts her about it. The events which follow are the reason Ava and Pip is so much more than a clichéd story about friendship and sibling relationships. Through both Bea and Ava’s actions young readers get a realistic–albeit contained– look at both the basic elements of relational bullying AND respectfully assertive behavior appropriate to the situation. Ava has the opportunity to discover the true power of words and language to both hurt AND lift up others. This leads to an awareness of the responsibility that comes with using language in addition to the delights of wordplay and self-expression.
Ava and Pip is a terrific choice among the Lovelace nominees this year as a read-aloud at home or in the classroom, as well a fairly quick and easy independent read. The language, story and sentence structure are all uncomplicated and easily processed by the young readers while the multi-layered plot and opportunities for complex wordplay interwoven throughout the story offer appropriate challenges for older elementary school readers. Classroom teachers will find ample opportunities within the story for springboards to language/wordplay activities and concepts as well as the starting point for discussions about classroom norms and interpersonal behavior. This one is a winner for a multitude of reasons!