Reviewed by Antonella Townsend and Willow
James O’Loghlin’s latest book The New Kid: Very Popular Me is an easy and most amusing read for 8-11 year olds. Should older readers leaf through, they will probably get hooked and feel as though, sentence by sentence, they are walking through a weird time warp tunnel back to 6th Grade. The dialogue and thought processes feel so authentic that readers could be forgiven in thinking that James O’Loghlin is in 6th Grade, along with his main character Sam.
Sam is the new kid at school, now starting to enjoy being popular thanks to the magnetic power of Swirly (must read book to find out who or what is Swirly), which leads to having a girlfriend. Another variable in his popularity is the fact that his best friend Gary has a swimming pool and invitations are hotly sought after. But it seems his popularity hangs on Swirly and Swirly has to go (must read book to find out why).
Through various comedic turns, readers learn: that popularity, like the tide, washes in and out – best not to take it too seriously; that life changes a bit when a baby sister is born into the family; and that parents are doing their best but often get it wrong.
Throughout this book Sam’s mum is either having a baby or just had one, and, apparently, hormones have turned her into a dippy state. Well, that’s the explanation Sam’s dad gives him. I hesitate to say … but … bit sexist? Personally, I haven’t met any would-be mothers in such an emotionally charged condition as Sam’s poor mother. But, I have been in awe of women who complete a PhD. a few days before producing a human.
So I asked Willow to read The New Kid: Very Popular Me and tell me what she thought of it. The feedback was very encouraging: ‘I liked Sam and I liked Swirly. I thought it was funny. Yes, I did enjoy it.’
Willow can be congratulated for her succinct approach, but I just had to ask her about Sam’s pregnant mum. Did she think her mother was as dippy as Sam’s mum when her brother was being born? The answer was a thoughtful ‘No’. I decided it was best not to probe for any more comments on this subject fearing I might launch into a feminist lecture. Never mind, pregnant mummy stereotypes aside, this is a fun book, and the illustrations by Matthew Martin add to its appeal.
James O’Loghlin is multi-talented – an author, broadcaster and businessman advising companies on innovation. He has also been a criminal lawyer, a stand-up comedian, and an ABC radio broadcaster, and, he has hosted over 300 episodes of The New Inventors on ABC-TV.
O’Loghlin is the author of nine books, including five novels for children. The Adventures of Sir Roderick the not-very-Brave won the 2014 Speech Pathology Australia award for best book for 8 to 10-year-olds, and Daisy Malone and the Blue Glowing Stone was published in 2015. The New Kid: Very Popular Me is his sixth book for children and the second book in The New Kid series, the first being The New Kid: Unpopular Me. James lives in Sydney with his wife and three daughters, who tell him when his jokes work and when they don’t.
Matthew Martin is an internationally known cartoonist and illustrator. His work has appeared regularly in the Sydney Morning Herald, Time, Rolling Stone, The Times of London, and The New York Times.
By James O’Loghlin
Illustrated by Matthew Martin
Pan Macmillan Australia