cute is the word that comes to mind when i think of carol weston’s (2014) middle grades book ava and pip. palindromic sisters ava and pip are exact contrasts: ava, the younger and more outgoing sister, is a writer whereas pip, the older sister, is withdrawn, choosing to read rather than be social. ava and pip is not a book i would describe as having the utmost literary merit (weston’s explicit agenda about words’ negative and positive attributes and the incessant wordplay make the writing seem ‘forced’ at times), there are aspects of the book that deserve attention.
at the core of ava and pip is an emphasis on wordplay. many of ava’s diary entries could be shared with kids to explore terms such as palindromes, similes, homonyms, etc. kids could even use particular passages as mentor texts for their own writing. i enjoy that the book presents middle grades characters who love playing with language, but, at times, the wordplay appears a bit cliched and forced. i encourage discussions about whether characters’ constant use of wordplay detracts from the depth of weston’s story. students and teachers may discuss if ava and pip reaches a certain saturation point, a point where the wordplay begins to lose effect.
one of the richest points weston makes in the piece – the idea of harm writing can do, especially in the world of instantaneous Internet publishing – looses its intensity because of its explicit, didactic delivery. of course, the lesson’s explicit presentation draws readers back to the Aesop fables ava so reveres. this explicitness can be discussed in reading groups and classrooms. do readers need the explicitness or with the right details, could they infer the book’s key lesson?
whether students’ writing should be censored – as ava’s writing is in the book – is another topic weston raises. the book seems to both embrace the power of voice while at the same time encourage that only specific stories can be told. are there stories that middle school students should not be able to write? kids, parents, and teachers may have varying views. the answer is not a simple one.
what i thought was one of the strongest aspects of the book is that ava learns a powerful lesson about writing: regardless of whether others consider us writers, we are the only ones who are able to give ourselves the appellation ava so covets: writer.