God made us to be individuals but He also designed us to connect with others like ourselves. We don't like to feel like we stick out. We don't like to feel so different from our peers that we feel like we can't relate to them. I'm Bernadette by Emily Grace Ortega normalizes the life of a young Catholic girl. A girl who doesn't always like her brothers but knows she is supposed to love them always. A girl who doesn't like big changes even when she kind of does like them. A girl struggling to understand and express her very natural feelings toward very normal life circumstances. This book is not a theological tome or an object lesson. It's an ordinary book for ordinary children who just so happen to be Catholic.
I was given a review copy way back in December and my oldest daughter immediately snatched up the book and read it through several times. Now 7 years old, she identifies with the young heroine. Both are in 1st grade, both Catholic, both discovering that they are not the center of the universe, both trying hard to do the right thing although life makes it difficult. The best review I could give of this book is not so much in my reaction (although positive) but in Maria's as she is the target audience and she wholeheartedly endorses it. She has begged me to get the next book about young Bernadette but will sadly have to wait until it's available. I suspect that it and all subsequent tales will eventually make their way into our home library.
The story itself is about a girl in a newly-founded Catholic school who learns that the school will be having an All Saints Day celebration instead of the Halloween party she was expecting. Now her carefully planned costume won't work (she needs to dress like a saint instead) and she's not sure she likes the change. She doesn't want to give up the costume she had looked forward to wearing, she doesn't know which saint to dress up as, and she feels like she is the only one in her school with her predicament--like everyone else is sure of themselves and only she is struggling to adapt. Don't we all feel like that sometimes??
What I appreciate most about I'm Bernadette is the simple ordinariness of it. We are building a culture in our family that often stands out from the world around us. Our children will sometimes feel like they stick out and can't connect with their peers. Books like this are supportive in our family life. They help show our children that they aren't alone. They will see friends like them as they grow up, but sometimes it helps to know that there are others "out there" in the world who they may never meet. We choose a life different from so many people in our environment; it can help to know that we aren't the only ones who choose that different path. And Look: it's normal! there are enough others that there's even the beginnings of a book series sold to others just like us.