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The Heart and Mind of Frances Pauley


The Heart and Mind of Frances Pauley

Adults are always telling children to just be themselves and that their differences make them special. While those ideas are wise and valuable, for some children they are difficult to realize. Frances Pauley is one of those children. Fifth grader Frances, who identifies herself as Figgrotten, is smart and a bit strange and quite lonely. She is the unforgettable star of April Stevens’ THE HEART AND MIND OF FRANCES PAULEY.

Figgrotten loves being outside observing bugs and birds and collecting sticks and leaves. She loves anthropologist Margaret Mead and the study of Lucy, the early human ancestor. When not at school, Figgrotten spends her time up in the rocks in her backyard, the place where she feels happiest.

"FRANCES PAULEY is an exceptional book. Stevens has created the sweetest and most compelling heroine and has told her tale with such grace and beauty."

The person who understands Figgrotten best and who honors her for who is she really is is her best friend Alvin. Alvin is the elderly school bus driver who takes Figgrotten and all the neighborhood kids to and from school. Alvin, a sweetly sage friend and voracious reader, has always been someone Figgrotten could trust and talk to. Her friendship with Alvin is all the more important as her friendship with her older sister, Christinia, has crumbled. Christinia is an eighth grader and is dealing with her own social issues. But, unfortunately and unkindly, she often vents her frustrations on her little sister. To make matters worse, some cruel girls at school mirror what Christinia says to Figgrotten: that she is a freak. Despite all this, and with the help of Alvin, Figgrotten is doing her best to hold on to the spark of wonder and truth within her.

Then, a series of events threatens Figgrotten’s ability to hold onto her small happinesses. First, a new student comes into Figgrotten’s class. James is just as smart as she is and perhaps just as lonely. But instead of seeing a kindred spirit, Figgrotten sees a competitor for the attention of her beloved teacher, Mr. Stanley. Next, and much worse, Alvin ends up hospitalized. Without him, Figgrotten feels like she has no one to rely on. She is worried about him and terrified she will lose him forever. In the midst of these upheavals, though, some good and interesting things begin to happen as well. Figgrotten and a girl named Fiona bond over their shared dislike of James and discover they have a wonderful time together. And, inspired by her budding romance with a nice boy named Ben, and by her own introspection, Christinia begins to act like a supportive and loving big sister. Soon, Figgrotten’s perspective starts to change in positive ways.

FRANCES PAULEY is an exceptional book. Stevens has created the sweetest and most compelling heroine and has told her tale with such grace and beauty. Figgrotten is full of wonder and tenderness but her sadness and anger feels so very real. Grief, friendship, family, self-acceptance, and the joy of nature; FRANCES PAULEY packs it all into a short, thoughtful, emotional, and splendid novel.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on February 26, 2018

The Heart and Mind of Frances Pauley
by April Stevens