Brightly’s Book Club for Kids:
by Kari Ness Riedel
Our new book club selection is a funny and heartwarming story from Holly Goldberg Sloan, the bestselling author of Counting by 7s. The book centers around Julia, a witty and observant tween who thinks the most remarkable thing about her is that she is very short for her age. When she is cast as a Munchkin in a local production of “The Wizard of Oz,” she grows in ways she never expected. If you like realistic stories full of humor, warmth, and lovable characters, this is the perfect summer book club pick!
About the Book
Best For: Kids ages 8–12.
You’ll Like It If You Like: Realistic fiction, funny and heartwarming stories.
It’s About: This is a tender and funny story about self-discovery and the value of role models who help us find our best selves. Julia is the kind of kid that most readers can relate to — she’s sad about the death of her dog, she misses her friends who are away for the summer, and she’s definitely not excited about being forced to try out for the local theater production of “The Wizard of Oz.” Being short for her age seems to be the thing that defines her the most. But the unexpected experience of being cast as a Munchkin in the musical helps her to see how big she really is — inside. Julia develops meaningful and important relationships with Olive, a fellow Munchkin who is an adult with dwarfism, her “old as dirt” neighbor, Mrs. Chang, and the worldly and wise director of the play, Shawn Barr. These new friends help her discover her unique strengths and her potential to be a star in life.
Clever, sweet, and totally charming, you can’t help but love Julia and the motley crew of characters that are thrown together in this local summer theater production.
Why We Picked It: This book is appealing to both boys and girls. The innocence of the characters makes it appropriate for younger readers while complex themes about the power of art, the value of role models, and the journey of self-discovery make it a good read for more mature thinkers, too. The writing is laugh-out-loud funny as the author’s dry wit comes out through Julia’s stream of consciousness observations about the adults she hangs out with throughout the summer. This fun and sweet story is perfect for a community or family book club.
What Kids Are Saying:
“I loved this book. It’s funny, sweet, and great for kids who love to act.” –Molly, age 11
“This was a really good book. [Julia] learned more about being a performer that summer. The story taught me a lesson about life … you might feel little on the outside, but you can grow on the inside — which is the most important.” –Ava, age 12
“Very well written and very funny! If you want a satisfying, quick read, this is the one!” –Zoe, age 11
“I think this was an amazing book. It was funny and happy and full of emotions.” –Bella, age 10
The Book Club Meeting
Reading Tips: This book can be read aloud to young readers over a series of days or weeks or read independently by older kids leading up to a group discussion. It deftly exposes young people to the reality of discrimination that impacts characters due to their age and physical condition (dwarfism). You could have kids research more about these topics and discuss ways to treat people that are different than you are. A conversation about the value of diversity in children’s literature and the need to read books that are both “windows” and “mirrors” would be a great introduction to reading this book. Check out this short Tedx Talk, “The Windows and Mirrors of Your Child’s Bookshelf,” given by author Grace Lin that also has a nice tie-in to “The Wizard of Oz.”
- Describe Julia. Name at least three qualities she displays. Would you want to hang out with Julia? Why or why not?
- Who are Julia’s role models? (Hint: What does she learn from Olive, Mrs. Chang, and Shawn Barr?) Why is it important for kids to have role models? Who is your role model? Why?
- Julia almost quit the play when she got nervous about being a lead dancer. What does Olive do to keep her in the show? Have you ever wanted to quit an activity? What motivated you to stick with it?
- Julia often goes on funny rants about idioms that adults use that don’t make sense to her. For example, “the show must go on.” Name other examples from the book or think of idioms that you hear adults say that don’t make sense to you.
- Julia is praised for taking initiative during the play. How do you define initiative? Do you agree with Shawn that it is more important than talent, luck, or good looks? Discuss a time when you took initiative and how it felt.
- Several characters in the story must deal with the assumptions that people make based on how they look. What do you think it’s like to be Olive? What did Julia assume about Mrs. Chang? Have you ever made an incorrect assumption about someone else that you later corrected? Have you ever felt like people made an incorrect assumption about you?
- The power of art is a central theme to this story. Shawn Barr explains that “artists are observers.” This challenges what Julia has always thought an artist is. How are you an artist? What does Shawn say is the purpose of theater? Do you agree? What do you think is the purpose of art?
- Why is Julia upset when she finds out she is just slow to grow and will probably not be short forever? Why does she want to be “short”?
- Discuss how Julia, Randy, and Shawn each handle the review of the play after opening night. Talk about a time that you had to react to negative criticism. What can you learn from Shawn and Randy’s reactions?
- At the beginning of the story, Julia sees herself as plain and ordinary except for being really short. What does Julia learn about herself during her summer as a Munchkin that makes her unique? What qualities or skills make you unique?
A Few More Just for Fun:
- Julia comes up with a slogan that she would put on a business card — “Marks Hits Her Marks.” What would your personal slogan be?
- Julia talks about words that sound yucky like “crotch” and “mucus.” What are examples of yucky words for you?
- Julia wonders how many adults really like their jobs and fantasizes about a future career where she could eat apricots, walk a dog, and lay in the grass and daydream. What is your fantasy career?
- Shawn Barr teaches the Munchkins about the value of body movement in acting. What does your body movement say about you? Does how you move change based on your mood? Walk across the room expressing different emotions and see if someone can guess your mood.
Diving Deeper into Short
“Wizard of Oz” Connections: Read L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz and then watch the movie together with your book club. Or, better yet, see the play if it is in your local area.
Try Something New: Initially, Julia doesn’t even want to try out for the play, but in the end it becomes a life-changing experience. Make a list of 3–5 things you want to try. Post it somewhere you’ll see it often — like on your fridge or on your bathroom mirror. Check in weekly or monthly on your progress and reflect on what you’ve learned from each new experience.
Make a Scrapbook: Julia and her dad make family scrapbooks to document important times in their lives. Make your own scrapbook to spotlight a special event or time period in your life. Need inspiration? Check out these paper scrapbooking ideas, travel journal ideas, or digital journal ideas.
Hone Your Acting Skills: Try the mirror activity that the Munchkins do during play rehearsal. Check out more acting and improv games here and here that are fun to do with groups of kids of all ages. They are great as warm-ups for a book club discussion or a fun, screen-free activity to bust boredom on a summer day.
Make a Book Trailer: Kids love using iMovie (or other video editing apps) to make trailer videos. Have them make a “book trailer” video to tell others why they should read this book. Check out these tips for making a book trailer.
What to Read Next
If you loved this book, here are some other heartwarming, funny, and realistic fiction stories:
The Best Man
Archer tells the story of his life from first to sixth grades, which is bookended by his role as the best man in two weddings. Award-winning author Richard Peck uses the gentle touch of humor to address serious topics like gay marriage and the power of male role models. The stream of consciousness writing style makes this book funny and relatable.
Gaby, Lost and Found
This is a thought-provoking story about finding your identity and your sense of home. Gaby’s mother has been deported to Honduras, and Gaby and her dad are working to find a new routine. Her one joy is her time volunteering at a local animal shelter where she helps animals get adopted as she struggles to find her own sense of home.
A Handful of Stars
This powerful novel from the Newbery Honor author of Rules centers on the friendship between Lily, a small-town girl, and Salma, the daughter of migrant workers. It tackles heavy themes like prejudice, loss, and love in a sweet and tender way.
Going to school and making new friends can be tough. But doing all that while wearing a bulky hearing aid strapped to your chest? That requires superpowers. This funny and sweet Newbery Honor book is the author’s true story of suffering hearing loss at age four and her experiences navigating elementary school with her Phonic Ear hearing aids.
Fish in a Tree
Ally Nickerson has always felt dumb at school but doesn’t realize she struggles with dyslexia until an inspiring teacher comes into her life. An emotionally charged story that captures the ups and downs of school, friendships, and the search for identity experienced by tweens and young teens.
If you like the author of Short, Holly Goldberg Sloan, check out her other books:
Counting by 7s
This beautiful and poignant book is for mature readers who like “sad” books. It chronicles 12-year-old Willow’s journey to overcome her grief when she suddenly becomes an orphan after her adoptive parents die in a tragic accident.
Appleblossom the Possum
This heartwarming and funny animal adventure tale centers around Appleblossom, a young possum who must go forth in the world and survive on her own. Her curiosity gets her into several messes, but luckily her friends and family are there to lend a hand. (Want to learn more? Go behind the scenes of the book with this Q&A with Holly Goldberg Sloan and illustrator Gary Rosen!)
Let us know what you thought of Short in the comments below!