Holly Goldberg Sloan
Dial/Penguin, 2017 296 pages
Julia is not having the best summer. Her beloved dog, Ramon, has just died and her two best friends are away, leaving her to stay home and mope. When her theatrical younger brother decides to audition for a local production of The Wizard of Oz, Julia's mother forces her to audition also. After a rousing performance of "This Land is Your Land" Julia and her brother Randy both score roles as munchkins. Julia is short for her age and is the perfect munchkin size. At the first rehearsal she meet three little people and befriends Olive, who although grown-up is the same size as Julia. Also present at the first rehearsal is Shawn Barr, the elderly yet passionate director who brings expertise and pizzazz to the proceedings. He immediately recognizes Julia's positive attitude and enthusiasm and she finds herself, along with Olive, promoted to featured dancer and winged monkey. Meanwhile an elderly neighbor reveals herself to be a former ballerina and costumer. The neighbor gets involved with Julia's help designing and assembling the costumes on the condition that she, too, can be a flying monkey. We see the play from its humble beginnings to when the final curtain is lowered through Julia's eyes and her comic narration of all of the interesting people and goings-on makes for an entertaining read. Back stage romances, behind the scenes dramas, injuries, and intrigue: none of it escapes Julia's perceptive brain as she discovers a love for the theater, as well as learning many valuable life-lessons.
Holly Goldberg Sloan is truly one of children's literature most eclectic authors. In the past few years she has gone from intense and heartfelt realistic fiction to animal fantasy and now to humor. Whatever Sloan writes is wonderful and she is one of the most capable authors currently producing. Short is much less extreme than her usual realistic fiction. It is about a "normal" girl with a regular family living in a nondescript town that many kids will relate to. What sets Julia apart is her shortness, which frankly doesn't slow her down at all. As a short person and as a former child who was always the shortest girl in my class, possibly the school, I could relate. I just wish I was blessed with her confidence. This character really knows how to make lemonade. I would have been devastated at being cast as a munchkin alongside my younger brother. Hopefully Julia will serve as an inspiration to other short children, as well as kids who suffer from any trait that makes them feel different. The book was tightly written, seeped with important lessons and character growth, but its true value lies in its humor. It is laugh-out-loud funny in certain places and the reader can just imagine the many colorful characters and behind the scenes hijinks as the plot unfolds. There are so many richly drawn characters, but the stand-out is the larger-than-life flamboyant director with the big heart. Even though the main character is a girl, she is not "girlie" and boys will enjoy this story as well. It moves along nicely and would make a great read aloud. This is a book that will give kids a much needed laugh and may even inspire some future thespians. Bravissama!