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Penny Draws A Best Friend by Sara Shepard

Nobody said starting fifth grade would be easy, and Penny Lowry’s anxiety means a million questions are always spinning through her thoughts. Luckily she’s got a lot to look forward to, like her favorite after-school activity, Art Club, and seeing her best friend Violet again after spending the whole summer apart.

The thing is, Violet has been acting weird ever since she got back. She never wants to hang out anymore, says Art Club is for babies, and spends all her time with Riley, the meanest girl in school. Did Penny do something wrong? And if she did, can she undo it?

Author Sara Shepard, of the Pretty Little Liar series, does a wonderful job with this story. Told as a series of diary entries to her dog Cosmo, Penny traverses the dilemmas of childhood in a humorous but heartfelt way.

Penny is a relatable character, who grows naturally throughout the story. Shepard touches on most of the stereotypes people encounter at school - from the 'mean' girls to the nerds, the misunderstood bullies and the quirky. Shepard's gentle exploration of these stereotypes was a lovely touch, encouraging younger readers to examine their own prejudices.

Shepard ensures the lessons that Penny learns throughout the book are told in an age-appropriate way, and doesn't patronise the reader. Shepard carefully walks the line between being humourous and serious. She ensures Penny's feelings are validated, while also making sure the character isn't solely guided by those fears.

Her sketchbook-style black and white doodles add to the engaging read, adding more playfulness to ensure the deep lessons don't weigh down readers too much.

Many middle-grade readers will see their own feelings and concerns reflected in this story, and Shepard's inclusion of healthy coping strategies within the story make it a fantastic resource.

Penny Draws A Best Friend is a heartfelt exploration of anxiety, of friendship, and of finding your people.

Reviewed by Rebekah Lyell Text Publishing


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