Review: President of the Whole 5th Grade

“I have BIG plans. I’m going to be a millionaire with my own cooking show on TV. Cupcakes are my specialty.” page 1

President of the Whole Fifth Grade by Sherri Winston.
Little, Brown, & Co., Hachette Book Group, New York, 2010.
My edition Scholastic, 2012.
Middle grade realistic fiction, 276 pages.
Lexile:  730L  .
AR Level:  4.8  (worth 6.0 points)  .

Brianna Justice may only be in fifth grade, but she’s already planning for her future as a famous chef with her own baking show.  Last year her idol, Miss Delicious, spoke to their class and laid out a roadmap… and it all starts with being president of her fifth grade class.  Only this year the rules have changed – there’s going to be just one class president over all the fifth grade classrooms.  Can Bree still win the new, tougher, competition?  Can she keep her integrity and friends while doing it?

President of the Whole Fifth Grade cover

Brianna Justice is not the most likable character.  In fact, in the beginning I was a bit worried because she is downright mean at times.  In some ways she’s very mature and dedicated to planning for her future, with a hefty savings account and a step-by-step life plan.  However she gets wrapped up in her own plans to an extreme, loosing balance in her life and neglecting her friendships.  Although this worried me, Bree does experience consequences for most of her actions.  Because she starts off as not so likable, she’s able to show a lot of character growth in a short period of time.

I strongly disliked that certain groups were put down or referred to as nerds, etc.  Bree is decently popular, and while she’s a more benevolent instead of malevolent popular, she doesn’t have much empathy for some of her peers.  While this fit with her character, I also felt like Winston should have called out her actions more.

However, it was also refreshing to see such a flawed character.  There’s a lot of pressure on black girl fiction to provide heroines for kids who might only have one or two mirror books.  Now that publishing is starting to diversify some, it’s important that we see minority characters in other roles as well.  After all, black girls can bully or make mistakes too!

I appreciated the lofty goals and concrete career planning that Bree had.  While I can think of several books about white girls with similar ambitions and early plans, there aren’t as many that model this for black children.  One of my friends frequently laments being steered to only a few particular models of success as a child – basketball, music, or religion were the career goals and anything outside of the mold was mocked.

Bree’s entrepreneurial efforts and her mentor’s specific feedback were my favorite parts.  I wonder if references to cookbook author Miss Delicious were a subtle nod to Angela Shelf Medearis, who these days is more known as a chef and cookbook author but still visits schools.

Some parts felt too forced.  If you read a lot of MG, it’s common in the genre for endings to come neatly wrapped up in a silver package with a bow.  This was certainly the case in this novel.  Although there is a sequel, nothing’s left unresolved, so I’m curious what the next book will be about.

This book was okay.  It wasn’t my cup of tea, but I’m not the intended audience.  I suspect the grade school girls will be crowding around to tell me how great it is.  It’s refreshing to see a smart but flawed black heroine in a typical middle grade read.  I’d suggest it for 3rd to 6th grade classrooms and school libraries, but it isn’t likely to hold the interest of an older reader.

Author: colorfulbookreviews

I work in a library by day and parent the rest of the time. I am passionate about good books representing the full spectrum of human diversity for every age group and reading level. This blog is my attempt to help parents, educators, and librarians find the best children's books authored by or featuring characters of color.

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