Welcome Back, Maple Mehta-Cohen by Kate McGovern. Book Review.

The premise of this story is that a girl, Maple, is kept back in grade four while all her friends move to grade five, middle school, and shun her. She fails because she can’t read. This has just been discovered by her “excellent” teacher and she is diagnosed with dyslexia.

Before I address the story writing, I must address this issue of failing a child for the teacher’s inadequate assessments. This book is published in Canada so I don’t know what province this would still be happening in. For decades in Ontario, teachers must assess students independent reading at least three times a year using unfamiliar text with no pictures or oral clues. The students are assigned a reading level and this is followed from grade SK to six. Teachers plot the child’s progress from one term to the next and if a child is falling behind, further testing and support is put in place. Everyone involved would be alerted if a child couldn’t read long before they reached the end of grade five. Parents would be livid if a child was suddenly kept back with no indication for years that they were struggling. There would be long discussion of why this child slipped through their fingers and someone would be held accountable.

Setting that aside, the story is an accurate representation of the trauma a child in this situation would suffer. Quite often the friends in their former class forget about including them, especially if they seldom see each other at school. Parents are often unaware that a child is being socially excluded. Maple is hurt but resourceful and brave. She suffers a horrible humiliation and has the compassion to forgive. Unfortunately, today I think the public humiliation of her poor oral reading would not be put on the intercom but would be spread across social media where it would not be forgotten so easily.

The book also touches on how difficult it is for minority children, especially those of mixed race, to find representation in media and history representation.

This is a touching story but it feels a little out of date. This seems as though the social and academic situations pertain more to the time of the author’s childhood than present day.

3 stars

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