Book review for kids: Con-nerd

I loved this book (but it's really meant for primary age - to early high school children!).  Connor is in Year 6, and is facing the selective schools test in a few weeks time. The selective schools test is a big deal in Sydney. It enables bright kids to get into academically selective government high schools. It means a free, reasonably good education (this is the perception anyway - my son is in a selective school so time will tell if they live up to their expectations). It is especially a big deal in migrant families.

The author, Oliver Phommavanh, is from a Thai family and totally went against his own parent's expectations by pursuing comedy. He also happens to be a primary school teacher in Sydney. So he knows the educational system and the pressures of life in a migrant family first hand.

Connor's dad died when he was little and he is the great hope of his wider Chinese family. His mum takes him to the hospital to meet doctors 'to inspire him'.  But he secretly wants to be an artist. And he's pretty good at it, but no one knows, because he keeps it a secret from his mum, and he spends all his spare time at Mr Van's tutoring school. At school he's just seen as a nerd.  But one day a tough kid, Stephen, sees one of his comics, thinks he is pretty good and they end up striking a new friendship.

A new girl, Tori, comes to the school and Connor is keen to impress her. So his new friend Stephen, helps him become cool - well, at least a little bit cooler. All the while he is supposed to be studying hard for the selective test. I won't tell you if he gets in or not because it's what keeps you reading!

I liked the book because it was funny and conveyed the transition that kids start to move through in their last year of primary school. Often new friendships are formed as kids grow up a bit and start to see others in different ways. They become a bit more independent and the opposite sex starts to appear on the agenda. I also liked this book because it articulates with gentle humour the experience of a migrant child seeking to respect his mum, while trying to work out how to be himself in the midst of all the pressure. There are not many books like this in Australian children's literature and I'd love to see more. Children can escape into books and to have stories that reflect their own experience of life but in an imaginative way is important.

I hope more books like this are written.


Catherine said…
Hi Jenny,
I recently listened to an interview with author/ illustrator Quentin Blake and he was much the same - was very bright and sent off to lots of good schools but all he wanted to do was draw, and that ended up being where he had his success, as we all know.

Sounds like a fun book!

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