Justin Case is a wonderfully likeable worrywort

Title: Justin Case: School, Drool, and Other Daily Disasters
Author: Rachel Vail
Illustrator
: Matthew Cordell
Genre: Fiction
Age: Chapter Book for grades 2 – 4

Summary and Review: I laughed; I cried.  Was it better than Cats?  Almost definitely: I’m a musical fan but I didn’t love Cats.  But this is a great book!  The hero of the story is Justin, a third grader with a long and hard-to-pronounce last name who gets the nickname “Justin Case” from the class bully who is a surprisingly good friend and supporter (and even, partially against Justin’s wishes, gets him voted to the student council).  The nickname, as the title of the book suggests, is an allusion to Justin’s tendency to worry.  About everything.  Justin worries about the new dog he begged his parents to get (and is terrified of in a wonderful way that reminds me of Mo Willem’s The Pigeon wants a Puppy).  He worries about his stuffed animals and the ominous way some of them look at him when the lights go out.  He worries about climbing the rope in gym class.  Most importantly, he worries in a lovable and funny way that will make many kids relate to him.

The ways in which Justin overcomes his worries is also priceless. For example, at home at night he is terrified often.  But when his little sister is scared, it’s his bed she sleeps in and he who comforts her.  He is scared of nothing more than “Bad Boy” an imaginary enemy he often thinks is in his house.  But when he hears his dog whimpering (and let’s remember he’s also scared of the dog), he jumps out of bed to the rescue, ready to battle whatever forces of evil await him.  If you have kids who are similarly scared, they might find some short passages a little scary.  But you don’t have to worry–everything has a good explanation and Justin will prevail.

The writing is wonderful.  I find myself quoting Justin now.  Should I be embarrassed about that?  Maybe.  But when Justin’s mom reminds him to say “no, thank you” instead of “I hate” when asked if he wants something, Justin translates that to every use of the word hate, and I’ve begun to as well as when I recently said to my husband “I no thank you cockroaches”.  And there you go.  In Justin’s own words, “There’s always tomorrow for all the bad things that didn’t happen today.”

The book captures a lot about elementary school that goes beyond Justin’s tendency to worry, though.  Being friends with girls, for example.  Dinosaur Day project presentations.  Being forced to practice the violin even though you are terrible.  Being forced to play soccer, basketball, and baseball when you’d rather be anywhere else in the world.  Birthday parties and everything that comes with them.  Classroom social dynamics.  Still sleeping with stuffed animals and finding out that even some of the “tough” guys do, too.

Definitely a book to pick up for your 3rd grader, worried or not.

Possible conversations to have with your kids:

I think the best conversation to have about this book would be to talk to your child about the main character.  Did she like him?  Could he relate to him?  What was funny about him?  Clever about him?  Does your son have any friends like him?  Could the book help your daughter to understand someone else she might previously not have liked?

Talking about how Justin prevailed over his anxieties would be great, too, although honestly I think that a kid would relate better if you come at this subject indirectly from just talking about Justin.  Every kid worries, whether you consider them a big worrywort or not and seeing a great example of an everyday wimp becoming his own hero is a great thing.

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