I don’t recall reading a book in which the main character is being “kept back” a year in school. Maple Mehta-Cohen is told by her fifth grade teacher that she will repeat fifth grade because she’s not reading at grade level.
In fact, Maple has kept her inability to read a secret for many years, not understanding why words swim on the page, sometimes faking it, using tricks she has learned to appear to be reading. Having her secret uncovered is a blow to Maple, to her parents, and to her friends. Her teacher, whom Maple admires greatly, knows this is the right thing to do to prepare Maple for the future but that doesn’t make it easy.
The chasm between fifth and sixth grade makes this even more difficult. Maple’s two best friends put distance between them, which may or may not be Maple’s fault. Maple has been lying, and worst of all she’s been lying to herself.
There are several plot threads that keep the story moving. Resisting her work with a reading intervention teacher, coming to terms with her parents’ disappointment, making new friends in the incoming fifth grade class, and writing a mystery blend smoothly into a compelling story.
Welcome Back, Maple Mehta-Cohen is told in a believable way by an author whose children are bi-racial. Kate McGovern consulted with reading experts about dyslexia. And she had a sixth grade reader check the story for authenticity. All of that shows. It’s a confident story with likeable characters, a smoothly moving plot, and a satisfying conclusion.
Welcome Back, Maple Mehta-Cohen
written by Kate McGovern
Candlewick Press, October 2021