Russell Sprouts

Book review by
Tracy Moore, Common Sense Media
Russell Sprouts Book Poster Image
Gentle, relatable tale of first grader's adventures, trials.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Readers will be exposed to sharing between siblings and neighbors, as well as to life for a first grader at school and home in New York.

Positive Messages

Russell Sprouts stresses the importance of cooperation and patience and giving children a lot of space to learn and grow at their own pace.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Characters are well-intentioned and realistically limited. Kids are still working out sharing and cooperating skills, while adults are kind and engaged but also face limitations of their own with patience or tempers.

Violence & Scariness

Minor peril when first grader Russell wanders into a scary grown-up film at the movie theater by himself. He's quickly found crying but unharmed. 

Language

Russell gets in trouble for using a bad word (unnamed) and is encouraged to come up with his own, which he subsequently does: "schmatz."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Russell Sprouts is a gentle, low-key book that examines the daily trials and tribulations of a first grader named Russell without a lot of fanfare. There's a brief scene of minor peril when he's at a movie theater; he wanders alone into a grown-up film about a fire and is shaken up but unharmed. In another story, he's encouraged to make up his own bad words to avoid saying actual bad words and does so with the word "shmatz." Russell Sprouts regards the challenges and frustrations of the age as important and ultimately very positive stepping stones toward growing up. Previous Russell outings are Rip-Roaring Russell and Russell Rides Again.

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What's the story?

Russell, the appealing protagonist of Rip-Roaring Russell and Russell Rides Again, is a first grader now, and he's becoming more aware of the contradictions and curiosities the world presents. Some words are bad, so what would happen if he made up his own instead? What if parents got report cards, too? What if instead of hand-me-downs there were hand-me-ups? Follow Russell as he faces his expanding world with amazement (and the occasional tantrum).

Is it any good?

RUSSELL SPROUTS offers first-grade adventures without the flourish. Here, 6-year-old Russell's frustrations are not particularly dramatic, but they're poignant nonetheless: What happens when dads get mad, when you say bad words, when you wander into the wrong (scary, grown-up) movie at the theater? How do you endure the particular torture of waiting for a plant to grow for a science project? 

The book's appeal is in those quiet, low-key resolutions. Given the space and time to work out his feelings and think things over, Russell comes to reasonable conclusions at his own pace, especially thanks to a highly engaged family and school setting that treats this age as a necessary one for explorer types. For first graders, these are extremely relatable scenarios, and for parents, these tales paired with their delicate pencil drawings are reminders that this phase, like any other, comes with its own unique challenges and should simply be aided along patiently as it runs its inevitable course.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about making up words. Have you ever made up words? Do your parents or teachers let you use them? Why, or why not? What's fun about making up words? When might making up words cause problems?

  • Have you ever had a hand-me-down or hand-me-up like Russell does? What was it? Did you like wearing or using it? Why is it good to give or donate our old things to others?

  • What grade would you give your parents if you gave them a report card? Why?

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