Ever since she was in fourth grade – back in 1960 – Amy Meislin Pollack was writing and telling stories about a character named Jelly Bean. She never stopped telling those stories, sharing them with her students over a teaching career that spanned 40+ years. She shared them with her three children when they were younger – and then with her seven grandchildren. Now her stories have been made available to everyone with the recent publishing of two coming-of-age books intended for middle-graders, The Adventures of Jelly Bean and The Further Adventures of Jelly Bean.
“My books touch upon topics of friendship, popularity, death, race, drugs, alcohol, feeling neglected, family issues, and the types of things many kids today are confronting as they look to find their way in an ever-changing world,” says Pollack.
The Adventures of Jelly Bean and The Further Adventures of Jelly Bean are the stories of a fourth-grader who faces challenges that just about all children her age can recognize. Her parents don’t approve of her favorite friend in the whole world. She has trouble getting along with her brother who is closest in age to her. The uncle she loves so much is about to marry the most awful woman she could ever imagine, and the girl who used to be her best friend has turned on her. Jelly Bean faces these and other stumbling blocks, including: the difficulties in achieving and maintaining popularity and how important having certain friends should be to her; difficulties inherent in relationships with various friends and family members; and learning how to make decisions on her own. In these first two books of my middle-grade series, Jelly Bean comes to understand that much of life is trial and error, and that the only constant in life is that it is always changing.
The Adventures of Jelly Bean
What if the start to your day was falling into the toilet, that caused you to miss your carpool, that in turn caused you to get to school late, that ultimately caused you to miss getting one of the decent parts in the upcoming. Thanksgiving play? That is exactly what happens to fourth-grader Jelly. Bean on the day we first meet her. Things only go downhill from there and no one at home seems to have much time for her. Except Roger-Over, her beloved dog.
A young girl braves daily hurdles and unwelcome life changes in Pollack’s middle-grade novel and series launch.
It’s not always easy for Jillian “Jelly Bean” Kramer to get noticed. The fourth-grader is the youngest of four children in her New Jersey household, but it’s her three brothers who hog their parents’ attention. While that’s long been the situation with her family, things aren’t going so great at school, either. Jelly Bean has a spectacularly bad day when she misses a chance at a speaking part in the upcoming Thanksgiving play simply for being tardy (her brothers’ fault, of course) and winds up in the principal’s office after allegedly disrupting the class. But that’s only a taste of how terribly everything has been going—her best friend, Taylor Alpert, has very recently turned mean in her attempts to cozy up to the most popular girl in their grade. Once Jelly Bean is “banished” from her regular lunchtime seat, she gets the sense that she has no friends. At least she’s got her fun-loving Uncle Jack at home, but he’s starting to spend more time with his fiancé, who isn’t an especially nice person. “All these new things keep happening,” Jelly Bean laments. “I liked everything better the old way. I can’t get used to everything new!” Now she’s a lonely girl who honestly feels that most people don’t like her and that no one at all cares about her. What she can do, however, is face each day and stay true to herself; maybe her life will show signs of perking up.
Pollack’s titular hero shines; she’s likable and relatable, an even blend of relatable worries and drama-queen moments. She cries when her beloved dog, Roger-Over, sprints out the front door, but she also schemes to get out of rehearsals by declaring she’s going to faint (“Your own daughter is about to pass out, and you don’t even act upset”). As frequently as she points out all that’s wrong in her life, Jelly Bean proves surprisingly resilient; she accepts people for who they are, even if an individual takes out their frustrations on her. While several characters are as mean-spirited as Jelly Bean claims, the narrative boasts an equal number of bright spots. Most notable is the scene-stealing Roger-Over, who’s pure joy in a furry package. The author breathes life into this cast, providing a varied assortment of characters with myriad dimensions, like the mixed-bag of Jelly Bean’s brothers—Sam is the nice one, Joel is the resident jerk, and Michael, the oldest, all but ignores his sister. Taylor doesn’t seem to be impressing anyone with her bid to be popular, and one outwardly warmhearted schoolmate may, sadly, be too weird for Jelly Bean’s comfort. This relatively short novel moves at a steady pace, taking Jelly Bean from one dilemma to the next.
An endearing, plucky girl endures and overcomes in this absorbing quick read.
The Further Adventures of Jelly Bean
Jelly Bean in the continuation of her adventures as she seeks solutions to the challenges that confronted her in book 1. Michael, her oldest brother, has dropped out of school and joined the Marines, which usurps much of her parents' attention. Kylie, the new girl in school, faces a medical emergency. And Jelly Bean is still forbidden from going to her best friend's house.
She has to decide how to deal with these dilemmas and more. Along the way she learns about love, death, pain, relationships, the difference between right and wrong and the value of friendship. See the world through the eyes of this forthright fourth-grader as she discovers two truths about life - that it is always complicated, and always changing.