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Kitchen Table Reviews: Ruby and the Booker Boys: Brand-new School, Brave New Ruby

The charming Ruby and her goofy older brothers star in this tale of sibling rivalry and back-to-school jitters.

By Mir Kamin | July 31 , 2009
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<i>Ruby and the Booker Boys: Brand-new School, Brave New Ruby</i> By Derrick Barnes
Ruby and the Booker Boys: Brand-new School, Brave New Ruby By Derrick Barnes

Here in the south, we go back to school early. That means that as many of you are hitting your midway point in the summer, we’re gearing up to head back to the classroom. And this year, both of my children are going to new schools. Picking up Brand-new School, Brave New Ruby was sort of a reflex; a book about starting at a new school? Perfect! But little did I know how charming we would find third-grader Ruby and her gaggle of big brothers.

Me: Did Ruby remind you of anyone?

Daughter: She seems kind of like Junie B. Jones. But not as obnoxious.

Son: Yeah, and older.

Daughter: And Black.

Me: Okay, let’s talk about that. Did her being Black make a big difference in the story?

Daughter: Not really, I guess. I mean, there were a couple of things, like her mom mentioning that she’d slept with her head scarf on so her hair still looked nice. But otherwise, no.

Me: Can either of you name another series you’ve read that centers on a Black family?

Neither of them could think of one. This is not to say that they don’t exist, but it gave me an easy opening to talk about how typical it is for kids’ books to center on white families.

Me: So maybe it doesn’t matter to you, but do you think you might like it if you were Black, to find a series like this about a Black family?

Son: I bet I’d like that.

Me: I bet you would. Tell me about Ruby’s family. Who do you like best?

Daughter: I liked her brother Ty the best, because he was nicest to her.

Son: I liked Ty, too, but because he’s the smartest.

Daughter: Ro is mean to her. He’s kind of a jerk.

Son: Only sometimes.

Me: Can you imagine having three big brothers? And feeling like you have to live up to their reputations at a new school?

Son: I think that would be hard.

Daughter: I dunno. I’m pretty shy; it wouldn’t bother me any if the attention was on my brothers instead of me. It would kind of be a relief.

Son: But for Ruby, she feels left out.

Daughter: And she’s kind of mouthy with some other kids, at first.

Me: But by the end she finds her place, right?

Son: Right.

Me: Is this series just for girls?

Son: No, I liked it too. But it was a little young for me. I think it’d be perfect for maybe… 7- and 8-year-olds? But boys or girls.

Daughter: Especially if they liked Junie B.

Son: Or have three big brothers!

Pros: Ruby and her brothers are goofy and likeable. A welcome bit of diversity on the mostly-white children’s literature landscape. It’s the start of what looks to be a great series.

Cons: Sibling rivalry. Mouthiness. New school jitters.

Brand-new School, Brave New Ruby gets three thumbs up and a pack of freshly-sharpened, school-ready pencils from our kitchen table.

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