Gertie's Leap to Greatness

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Gertie's Leap to Greatness Book Poster Image
Spunky 5th-grader learns life lessons in warmhearted tale.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Some mention of classic books including Treasure Island. The school drama production has a healthy-eating message.

Positive Messages

Plenty of strong messages, many of which are left for Gertie and the reader to realize, about kindness, empathy, and doing the right thing, as well as the love of family and friends. Also, more than a bit of pride goes before a fall.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Gertie means well but doesn't always do the right thing -- in fact, her big plans cause her to do all kinds of questionable stuff, such as breaking into a classmate's house uninvited, leaving a 5-year-old unattende. or saying mean things she instantly regrets. But over the course of the story, her experiences dealing with various challenges make her a better friend and a better person. Her great-aunt and her father are kind, loving, and supportive. Her friends Jean and Junior put up with a lot from Gertie's heedlessness sometimes, but they're there when she really needs them. Her teacher is dedicated to her work, understands her students very well, and solves problems creatively.

Violence

Most of the violence here is emotional, such as the meanness and bullying of Gertie's former friends turning on her. A kid says he broke his arm in a grand adventure, but everyone knows he just fell down the stairs.

Sex

Gertie's mother bailed on the family when Gertie was a baby and is now about to remarry. When Gertie's friend Junior does something really great, Gertie says she wanted to kiss him, except that he was Junior.

Language

Gertie's great-aunt sends her off to school every day with "Give 'em hell, baby!" A character describes a conceited person as having her nose so far in the air she can smell angel farts.

Consumerism

Some characters obsessively watch The Waltons. The neighborhood Piggly Wiggly grocery store gets several mentions, mostly for scene-setting.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Gertie's Leap to Greatness, by first-time author Kate Beasley, packs a lot of heavy issues and life lessons into its appealing story of a spirited fifth-grader in a small Southern town. Much of the story involves the young protagonist's desperately imaginative efforts to impress the mom who abandoned the family in Gertie's infancy and still wants nothing to do with them. There's also a 5-year-old whose parents are never around. A mean girl uses pretty much every evil, manipulative trick in the book to turn Gertie's friends against her, including starting a "save the planet" club she uses to bully Gertie, whose father works on an oil rig. Along the way, kind adults offer stability and wisdom, especially when the stress of it all leads Gertie to make some questionable choices. The author delivers strong messages of kindness, empathy, love of friends and family, and finding ways to be yourself -- usually by letting Gertie figure it out. Language is frequent, including "Give 'em hell, baby!" and one reference to farts.

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What's the story?

IN GERTIE'S LEAP TO GREATNESS, Gertie lives in a small Southern town with her dad, who's away half the time working on an oil rig, and her great-aunt Rae. She has some good friends, and she's looking forward to a great year in fifth grade. But when she learns that her birth mom, who lives in the same town but has had nothing to do with her since she was a baby, is about to remarry and leave town, Gertie hatches an imaginative, multistage plan to become the greatest fifth-grader ever to make the woman realize her error. Foiling Gertie's plan is a lip-gloss-wearing mean girl, newly arrived from California, who quickly turns most of Gertie's former friends against her. And it doesn't help that Gertie says hurtful things to friends and family when her buttons get pushed. Trouble, tears, laughs, and a few surprises soon follow.

Is it any good?

First-time novelist Kate Beasley delivers a spirited, relatable protagonist and a lively account of the trouble she gets into in this tale of fifth-grade life in a small Southern town. Appealing and believably flawed despite her best intentions, Gertie is easy for kids and adults to root for. Her dad and great-aunt are strong, kind figures, and her teacher shows good heart and much wisdom. Gertie's Leap to Greatness deftly nails a particularly nasty form of bullying: using a "good cause" as a weapon to make someone feel bad about themselves or their loved ones. Gertie's dad works on an oil rig, so the mean girl organizes everyone but her into a group picketing the school entrance with "Stop the drilling!":

"She could see a drawing of an oil rig with a big red X scratched over it. For Gertie it was like that drawing wasn't just any rig. It was her father's. And Gertie couldn't ignore them anymore.

"'You don't care about clean seas!' she yelled. 'You're doing this to be mean! All of you!'"

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the bullying in Gertie's Leap to Greatness. How do people use noble-sounding slogans and causes to make other people feel bad? Do you think it helps or hurts a cause when its supporters act this way?

  • Gertie's Leap to Greatness takes place in a small town in the American South. How does that affect the characters' day-to-day lives, and how might that be similar to or different from life in your town?

  • When do you think it's a good thing to work really hard to impress someone else? And when are you better off doing something else?

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