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School of Charm by Lisa Ann Scott
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School of Charm

by Lisa Ann Scott

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Chip has always been her daddy’s girl, sandwiched in between two sisters who take after their mother much more strongly. But when Chip’s daddy dies and the family must move from New York State to North Carolina, Chip finds herself at loose ends. Her grandmother is cold and exacting, and while her sisters quickly adapt to life as Southern belles and make plans to enter the Miss Dogwood beauty pageant, Chip can’t seem to settle in. She has no interest in being in a beauty pageant, that’s for sure! Exploring the woods near her grandmother’s house, Chip comes across a path leading to Miss Vernie’s School of Charm. Hoping for something magical, Chip follows the path. Miss Vernie’s school is a little bit magical, even if the purpose of it is to train girls for the same pageant Chip’s sisters are planning on entering. Chip almost turns and leaves, but she finds herself intrigued by the charm school and the other girls there. Since Miss Vernie doesn’t charge tuition at her school, Chip continues to attend. Perhaps, if she can surprise her mother and grandmother by entering the pageant, she will feel like part of the family again.

I found this book underwhelming – the characters are a little flat, the plot a little patchy. There's a good message underlying the story, but it's a bit heavy-handed in its application. All in all, this is not a bad read, but not a great one, either. ( )
  foggidawn | Jun 21, 2014 |
Chip has always been a tomboy and daddy’s girl and she’s never felt even the littlest bit self conscious about it… until her father dies and her mother decides to move Chip and her two sisters down south to live with her mother, Chip’s grandma. It doesn’t take long to figure out that Grandma doesn’t at all approve of Chip, who’s entirely too much like her Yankee father. As her perfect sisters prepare for the annual Miss Dogwood pageant – a pageant both Chip’s mother and grandmother won a swell – Chip feels even more left out. She likes who she is, the outdoorsy girl who loved her daddy and is determined to remember him no matter what, but what if the only way to make people, including her own family, like and love her is to be someone else? When Chip stumbles across Miss Vernie’s School of Charm, she decides that she’s willing to change to fit into her new life without father. Led by the supportive and quirky Miss Vernie, Chip struggles to fit into the straight-laced, judgmental southern society along with two fellow classmates (one messy and overweight, the other African American) and learns lasting lessons about being true to yourself and acceptance.

I struggled to keep my outrage in check as I read about tomboy Chip and her judgmental Grandma, who appears bent on tearing Chip down and making her feel worthless. This woman is horrible! Seriously. By the end of the novel, Chip’s mother finally starts standing up to her grandmother, but, in my opinion, neither was a very great role model for Chip. Still, this horrible grandmother offers an accessible way to present a variety of difficult topics to middle grade readers. Through Chip’s interactions with her Grandma, the reader is presented with racism, bullying, the ridiculous enforcement of gender roles, not to mention judgment and rudeness disguised as Southern hospitality.

Not only does School of Charm follow Chip’s growth, readers also follow the growth of her fellow classmates at Miss Vernie’s School of Charm. One of the best lessons illustrated by this debut from Lisa Ann Scott is the importance of who you are versus what you look like. All three girls face judgment and unequal treatment because of their physical appearance. There’s a fantastic scene in the novel when all three girls are working in Miss Vernie’s pond and end up with mud facials. As they stand together, peering at their reflections in the pond, Chip notes that, when covered with mud, all the girls look essentially the same. On the outside, they have physical differences, but at their core, they’re essentially the same and are all deserving of respect and fair treatment. ( )
  thehidingspot | Feb 23, 2014 |
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After her beloved father's death in 1977, eleven-year-old tomboy Chip tries to fit with her family of beauty queens, making unlikely new friends at Miss Vernie's unusual charm school in Mt. Airy, North Carolina.

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