Audrey L & Audrey W, Book 2: True Creative Talents by Carter Higgins & Jennifer K. Mann

Oh, man, what a note-perfect take on being in the second grade, and how tricky and possessive friendships can be.

Not, ofc, that the Audreys are possessive per se. But there’s no denying that they’re best friends, and provide their teacher Ms Fincastle with zero Teamwork Trouble. They’re not like Bettina and Mimi, who are also supposedly best friends and art partners. In the Audreys’ opinion, Mimi could stand to treat Bettina a little better.

But when Ms Fincastle decides to shake up her classroom’s seating arrangements, the Audreys are split up. Audrey L finds herself at a table with Bettina, who might need extra encouragement during an earthquake drill. When the Audreys are forced to include Bettina in their talent show performance, will they find their friendship split apart by this interloper, or will they learn valuable lessons about the power of friendship?

As this is a kids’ chapter book, it’s pretty obvious what the answer to that question is. I was pretty surprised, however, by how much actually goes on in this book, as the Audreys hang out with their families, friends and classmates, finishing art projects, having dinner and just generally learning what it means to be a good person. Audrey L has an epic meltdown near the end, the aftermath of which is handled with aplomb. Her narrative voice feels both rich and authentic, reminding me in many ways of Peg from Peg + Cat, only with less math and singing, but more art, school and family.

Further deepening this resemblance are the charming illustrations throughout by Jennifer K Mann, which bring to mind nothing less than the works of Sir Quentin Blake, who may be most famed himself for his works illustrating Roald Dahl’s children’s books. The line drawings seem simple but are wonderfully expressive, and lend a diversity to the proceedings that’s both delightful and important.

A lot of books have been considered the spiritual successors to Beverly Cleary’s superlative Ramona Quimby series, but this one feels like the best contender to me, with its (relatively, for a chapter book) dense plot and fully-felt emotions. I really want my kids to read it, which is one of the highest compliments I can give any book. One note: while this is marketed at beginner readers, I think it might work best for advancing chapter book readers as the vocabulary is quite extensive.

Audrey L & Audrey W, Book 2: True Creative Talents by Carter Higgins & Jennifer K. Mann was published yesterday October 11 2022 by Chronicle Books and is available from all good booksellers, including

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