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Book Review: The Girls Know How Series: Smart Alex by Ellen Langas Campbell

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When you were in elementary or middle school, did you ever feel like you didn't fit in or couldn't get interested in some of your school subjects? Alex seems to feel that way. Smart Alex is about Alex Martinez, a smart, sassy 7th grader flirting with trouble and spending far too much time in detention after school. She sits with the table of misfits in the lunch room – the only group she really identifies with. But over the course of the book, she begins to see her own potential and gain some confidence in her abilities.

Though I'm definitely not the target audience for The Girls Know How Series, I wanted to check it out for my eldest daughter, who just turned nine. The goal of the series is to help girls see some of the career choices they may not normally consider – journalism, construction, or education are covered as the first three books of the series. It also aims to help readers see the benefits of working together, helping their communities, and applying what they learn in school to different areas of their lives.

Alex' journey from a loner with low self-confidence and little direction doesn't happen all at once in Smart Alex. She goes through stages, first discovering her talent for math and joining the MATHCOUNTS team. MATHCOUNTS is a program where a team of four students from one school competes against a team from a different school. During the competition, both teams are given a math problem. The first to buzz in and provide the correct answer gets the points. The team with the most points wins.

Once she joins the team and sees her potential, she tries to answer every question herself – never stopping to ask her team for input. Unfortunately she doesn't get every answer correct, which causes her team to lose a few competitions. Over time she begins to see that teamwork has its advantages and that her teammates may have the right answer even if she doesn't.

She also is asked to help a younger student, Ronna, with some math tutoring. Alex initially can't find a way to help Ronna see the benefits of math, but she begins to see ways to approach the problem through Ronna's love of baseball. Multiplication, fractions, percentages – all are used in computing batting averages and other important player statistics. And by showing Ronna how the math she used for baseball applied to other areas, she began to see the light.

What I really appreciated about the story was that it never stooped to preaching right and wrong to the kids. Through examples most students will encounter during their academic careers and social issues common to growing up, the lessons learned are much more organic.

My daughter read the book and said she really liked it. "It makes kids think they can do anything they set their mind to," she said. And I agree. Through the application of effort, a little creativity, and the ability to learn, no task is impossible.

If you're looking for a good series of books with solid lessons for ages 8 to 12, I would highly recommend you look for The Girls Know How Series. The three books in the series so far are Will Stephanie get the story?, Raising the Roof, and Smart Alex. Be sure to look for them at your favorite bookstore or library.

Check out the series website for more information.

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About Fitz

Fitz is a software engineer and writer who lives in Colorado Springs, CO, with his family and pets, trying to survive the chaos!
  • http://saharsblog.wordpress.com Sahar

    Sounds like an interesting book I might want to pick up for my younger friends :) Thanks for the review!

  • http://writer.fitzhome.com Fitz

    @Sahar – You bet. I think I’ll be picking up the other books in the series for my daughters as well. :)