I had this memory of having read a book with a character named Queenie Paxton in it, but I could never remember exactly what the book was. Then I was at the used book store buying my son several Magic Tree House books (I now understand what my mother went through keeping me in BSC books) and saw this book and instantly it was like a lightbulb went on over my head. I knew this book had Queenie Paxton in it, though I remembered very little else about the book.
Anyway, this book centers around Lillian Iris Pinkerton, a seventh grade girl who has a major problem with her height. At twelve years old, she is 5’6″, several inches taller than anyone else in her class – boys and girls included. She’s been given the nickname Beanpole by her classmates. The bitch who nicknamed Lillian Beanpole is a short chunky girl, and Lillian tried to get her nicknamed, “tree-trunk legs,” but that didn’t seem to stick.
On Lillian’s thirteenth birthday (which she chose to celebrate at the skating rink, not realizing she’d be even taller on roller skates) Lillian makes three wishes 1-to get a bra, 2- to dance with a boy, and 3-to make the pom squad.
The first wish comes about because this real bitch in class, none other than Queenie Paxton, makes fun of Lillian for not needing a bra yet. She asks if Lillian has “made any mountains out of her little old molehills yet,” and, “if the Jolly Green Giant has any niblets growing yet.” When Lillian asks her mom for a bra, her mom laughs because she doesn’t need one, then laughs even harder at Queenie Paxton’s name. You and I both, Lillian’s mom. But Lillian is really upset, so her mom does go out and buy her three training bras.
The seventh grade class is in charge of the winter dance, and Lillian signs up for the decorating committee. Her parents and grandparents are weirdly excited for this, because Lillian isn’t exactly interested in joining things. Lillian’s idea for doing a winter in the south pole theme is chosen as the dance theme and she put in charge of all the decorations. In a really sweet scene, Lillian’s grand dad helps her make some papier mache penguins.
At the dance, Lillian is asked to slow dance by B.B. Appleton, the shortest kid in class. She feels ridiculous, but goes ahead with it because, after all, it was her second wish. Lillian starts to feel like maybe she and B.B. really understand each other, what with their heights being so far out of the ordinary. Her happiness was short-lived when she learns that B.B. only asked her to dance on a bet.
This throws Lillian in to a major funk. She sulks, she snaps and talks back to her parents and even her Granddad can’t get her spirits up. She decides against trying out for the Pom Squad. Granddad has Lillian make a list of pros & cons to trying out, and the next day, she sees that she probably really should try out. Both of her friends, the cute and perky Belinda, and the stocky brainy Drew are both trying out as well.
Over forty girls are trying out for the Pom Squad, so there are two rounds of cuts. The first cut leaves fifteen girls, one of whom is Lillian, though both Belinda and Drew were cut. Lillian, who is generally not the most outgoing, learns the routine so well, she even performs it for her parents and grandparents. She gets to the final tryout and tries her hardest. She actually thinks she does a pretty good job – but it’s not enough. She doesn’t make the final team.
She tries to be upset about it, but she can’t even bring herself to cry. She does call herself a loser, which really upsets Granddad, because a loser wouldn’t have even tried in the first place. As always, her Granddad makes her feel a lot better.
At the end of the book, Drew and Belinda are pestering Lillian about joining something, so that she can decide what to do in high school. Lillian mentions that the Pom Squad coach told her she seemed like a natural at the long jump, so she’s considering going out for track. And the social studies teacher liked her dance decorations, and asked for her help with an American Indian display. So, you know, she’s keeping her options open.
- I have this thing for names. I love reading baby name books, and following The Name Lady and the Baby Name Wizard Blog. This book was published in 1983 and Lillian bemoans how unpopular her name is. I don’t know how many of you are moms (or dads) out there, but go to any suburban playground in America and the place is littered with under-8 Lillians, Lilys and Lillys. Lillian says she wishes if her mom wanted to name her after plants, she would have gone with something normal like Holly or Ginger. Or even that she’d gone with animals and named her Robin or Fawn. All of those names are now hilariously 1980s.
- I was always either the shortest, or one of the shortest, kids in class. But is 5’6″ really that tall for a 12/13 year old? I feel like in 7th grade there were at least a handful of kids that tall or taller.
- Lillian is sort of a wonderfully smart and sarcastic girl, but rarely lets it show. She’s also a master at pointing out the stupid things that parents and adults do. Like using reverse psychology, or not remembering what it’s like to be picked on, or the pom squad giving all the girls, a ‘you’re a winner just for trying out’ speech that no one wants to hear, or her parents telling her that the other kids pick on her because they’re jealous of her ‘beautiful height.’
- She also makes these shrewd comments about where she fits in. When her parents are thrilled that she made the final cut for the Pom squad and she wants to do her routine for them, Lillian notes, “I think I’ve been a disappointment for mom and dad. Raising a tall shy kid with no talent is probably about as thrilling as raising a celery stick.”
- This is kind of a fun little book. I’m glad I found it and re-read it.