Captain Superlative by J. S. Puller – Review by Jaymie Dieterle
Captain Superlative has taken Dearwood Park Middle School by storm with her swimsuit-and-tights costume, blue rubber gloves, wig, facemask and cape. You can’t miss her. She seems to know everyone and see everything. She helps injured kids get around the school, distributes peppermints to all the kids who have tests to take, and creates study guides for hard tests for everyone in her grade. She even stands between Queen Bee, Dagmar, and her favorite bullying target, Paige.
Janey is mystified by Captain Superlative. Janey’s philosophy is to stay in the middle of the pack. Don’t draw attention to yourself. Stay invisible. Why would anyone want the attention Captain Superlative draws? Janey is intrigued and determined to find out who Captain Superlative really is and why she showed up at midterm this way.
With that premise, I knew this was going to be a great story. But I had no idea it would be as stellar as it is. One of my favorite themes in books for middle grade (and teen) readers is identity. I love watching kids (in real life and in books) discover their passion or take a stand or find their voice. And in this story, blend-into-the-background Janey finds her voice and uses it to speak up in defense of others. I wanted to cheer!
Captain Superlative’s message of doing good deeds and speaking up for those with no voice is perfect for these days in our culture. “Life’s too short to be anything less than superlative.” (pg 121) Her acts of kindness around the school change the atmosphere in the building. Kids feel seen and known, and it changes how they walk and interact with others and what they believe about themselves. Captain Superlative sweeps Janey up into her energy and confidence. Janey starts to speak up, and it’s often not even a conscious decision. It just rises up out of her.
Through Janey’s adventure with Captain Superlative, she searches for the reason the Captain appeared. Why would a seventh grade girl go to these lengths? Why here, and why now? Why do the school personnel go along with this potential disruption to their work? As Janey searches for the answer to those questions, she also has to ask herself why she has joined in. Why have the actions of one kid started to change her? And if Captain Superlative ever stops being the Dearwood Park Middle School hero, what will Janey do? Has she changed enough that she would keep speaking out even if she stands alone?
I highly recommend this book for upper elementary and middle school readers. This would make a fantastic read-aloud for teachers and other professionals looking to inspire a culture of kindness. Be sure to have your tissues handy, though. This powerful, emotional story will tug at the hearts of readers.
Jaymie Dieterle lives in Indiana with her husband and son and is a former elementary school librarian (the best job she’s ever had). She has been an avid reader since childhood when she devoured Nancy Drew, the Bobbsey Twins and Trixie Belden and cut swim lessons to go to the library. She blogs about books at www.theneverendingtbr.com. Jaymie can be reached on Twitter at @justjaymied or on Goodreads.