• Happy birthday Ann Rinaldi (A Break With Charity; The Secret of Sarah Revere), Suzy Kline (Horrible Harry series; Herbie Jones), Suzanne Fisher Staples (Shabanu; Under the Persimmon Tree), and Sarah Stewart (The Gardener, The Library).
  • It’s the birth date of Arlene Mosel (1921-1996), Tikki Tikki Tembo.
  • Charles Rolls (1877-1920), co-founder of Rolls-Royce, was also born on this day. Read Shapes That Roll by Karen Nagel.
  • In 2003, the planet Mars made its closest approach to Earth in nearly 60,000 years. Read Destination: Mars by Seymour Simon, and You Are the First Kid on Mars by Patrick O’Brien.
  • Apparently it’s Just Because Day. Why? Well…just because. Read Just Because by Rebecca Elliot.

Around this time of year, many children have already headed back to school or are in the process of doing so. If you are hunting for a book that might make middle school sound more interesting than the child in your life thinks it will be, pick up the book of the day, Lauren Tarshis’s Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree.

In her debut novel, Lauren Tarshis, who works in the publishing industry, demonstrates that she knows how to write like a dream for those ages eleven through fourteen. Emma-Jean Lazarus is one of the great oddball characters of fiction. She demonstrates no emotional response to the events around her; like her late father who was a mathematician she likes to solve problems logically. So when she starts to encounter some of the messy dilemmas of her seventh grade classmates, she begins to get involved by providing intelligent and practical solutions for them.

When Emma-Jean finds Colleen sobbing in the bathroom about the class mean girl, Emma Jean comes to her rescue—with a forged document. Then when Emma-Jean’s mother seems to be far too attracted to their boarder, Emma-Jean quickly tries to arrange a date between the boarder and her teacher!

Although Emma-Jean is never diagnosed with autism, she exhibits all the signs. For fans of Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Emma-Jean is like a younger version of Christopher. Emotions are messy but she is cool and precise. As her own life starts to careen out of control, she discovers that middle school traumas may not be as easily solved as mathematical equations.

Like all great fictional characters, Emma-Jean changes in the course of the narrative. She not only wins readers’ hearts, she makes some friends, connects with her fellow students in middle school, and makes plans for the future.

For anyone feeling a bit alien in middle school, Emma-Jean may well seem like a kindred spirit. And, if she can make a success of seventh grade, so can anyone else. Happy beginning of school. I hope all teachers and classrooms have at least one Emma-Jean Lazarus in them to make things interesting this year.

Here’s a passage from Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree:

When she was much younger, spending time with other children often left her feeling confused, as though she were visiting with creatures of a different species. In kindergarten, she had spent each recess perched at the top of the monkey bars, watching her buzz-cut and pigtailed peers chasing each other around the playground. It was odd the way they screamed as though they were scared, yet smiled as if they were happy. A group of girls might yell to a boy, “Dylan!” but when Dylan walked over, the girls would run away shrieking and laughing. Emma-Jean would study Dylan, wondering what was frightening about him, or, alternatively, what was funny. Perhaps they suspected he had pinkeye. But then why call him over and risk infection? Or maybe he had been muttering an amusing rhyme that Emma-Jean couldn’t hear. Each new situation was like a puzzle that Emma-Jean had to solve.


Originally posted August 27, 2012. Updated for .

Tags: Family, School
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree
One year ago: The Magic School Bus


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Daily children’s book recommendations and events from Anita Silvey.

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