Book Review: Gooney the Fabulous

by Lois Lowry; illustrated by Middy Thomas
Reading level: Grades 1–3

Young readers who have been following the quirky, erudite adventures of Gooney Bird Greene will enjoy two-time Newbery medalist Lois Lowry's third installment in the series (Gooney Bird Greene, Gooney Bird and the Room Mother). Those who have not yet been introduced to the unique charms of this pajama-wearing, fun-loving, wise-beyond-her-years second grader will have no problems jumping right onto the Gooney Bird bandwagon.

Mrs. Pidgeon's second-grade classroom has been reading Aesop's fables. Gooney Bird, the class's unofficial, underage teaching assistant, is never content to let her education (or that of her classmates) be passive. She comes up with a plan: “We can write our own fables!” Soon every child is busily creating a story with a moral. The rest of the book features these well-written fables and the second graders' reactions to them. Along the way, readers are treated to Gooney Bird's exceptionally thoughtful, empathic ways as she responds to each child's idiosyncrasy…

Malcolm is chronically wound up, repeating every thought that pops in his head three times (not coincidentally, he has brand-new baby triplet siblings at home). His impulsive ways are quelled kindly by Gooney Bird's diversions and Mrs. Pidgeon's gentle hand on his shoulder. Shy Felicia Ann has a speech impediment, but no one teases her. Tyrone (somewhat unfortunately conforming to African-American stereotype) breaks into imaginative rap songs at the drop of a hat. Lowry makes it clear that he is bright and perfectly capable of speaking “proper” grammar, and the kids obviously adore his energy. Keiko dreads sad stories, so Gooney Bird continually reassures her during each reading. And finally, Nicholas, who seems so sad throughout the fable project, reveals to his classmates his problem, and Gooney Bird immediately comes up with a solution that makes him feel included and special.

Social and Emotional Learning in Gooney the Fabulous

Teachers of the Second Step program will wish they had as perfect a role model in their classroom as Gooney Bird. The next best thing will be reading this book and discussing Gooney Bird's extraordinary skills in listening, empathy, and problem solving.

Gooney Bird demonstrates deep breathing (“taking deep breaths was always helpful in problem-solving”) and admirable self-confidence (“I am never ever embarrassed,” she says when commenting about the sensibleness of wearing a ducky bib when eating her olives-stuffed-with-anchovy in the lunch room). Mrs. Pidgeon herself displays some excellent social and emotional skills. When Barry announces that it's a baby thing to have a teddy bear in second grade, embarrassing Beanie, who has brought one in for her fable, the teacher first tells about her own stuffed lamb that she still keeps on a shelf in her bedroom, then allows the other children to talk about their stuffed animals, and finally encourages Barry to apologize to Beanie. The children come up with morals that range from earthy-hip (Tyrannosaurus Rex: “Big mean nuthin' if you don't do school”) to poignant (Bison: “Guns make a mess of things”) to oh-so-true (Flamingo: “You should be very proud of what color you are”).

Emilie Coulter
Book Reviewer
Committee for Children