One of my comfort-media habits is rereading my favorite children's and young adult novels— many of which I've never heard anyone else mention. "Did You Read This, Too?" is my attempt to celebrate these personal classics and see if anyone else shares my love.
I was wondering to myself, "Where did Here She Is, Ms. Teeny-Wonderful! come from, anyway?" until I opened my worn, ragged copy of the book and saw "Rockford Board of Education" stamped inside the front cover, with a permanent-marker slash through it. Even around 1997, when I must have picked it up at a used book sale in the school library, Here She Is, Ms. Teeny-Wonderful! was apparently considered dated and without educational merit.
But more than 30 years after its publication in 1984, and 20 years since it became my family's property, I'm still delighted by every page of this warm, silly book. I found myself laughing out loud while rereading it, utterly in love with 12-year-old protagonist Carol Weatherspoon and her best friend, Wally Stutzgummer. Carol's a gritty daredevil, sarcastic and deadpan, supremely comfortable with herself and fiercely loyal to her friends and family.
Carol's cheerful life of performing BMX bike stunts with her friends in small-town Canada is disrupted when her mother enters her into a preteen beauty pageant called "Ms. Teeny-Wonderful." She initially agrees to participate because of the promise of prize money, and then is drawn into fierce competition through a rivalry with a pair of manipulative prankster twins. Through it all, her fellow biker Wally is there to steady her with his offbeat stoicism.
Something I often enjoy in books, movies, and TV shows is their ability to create their own mythology within a relatively realistic setting — like the "09-er" shorthand from Veronica Mars. Carol's world is built entirely around the ability to jump over garbage cans on her bike. The hierarchy is established from the first pages of the book: jumping over cans wins status among kids in her town; even jumping over two or three cans is a rare feat; Carol and Wally are the only five-canners; both Carol and Wally have been injured trying to attempt six cans. Early scenes of the two friends biking together emphasize how much they like each other and want to see the other succeed. Carol's daredevil hobbies are initially presented as the reason why she's all wrong for a beauty contest, until the triumphant climax when she convinces the pageant directors to let her compete with bike jumping as her talent.
"Escalating pranks" is one of my least favorite comedy plots, and Ms. Teeny-Wonderful does lose some energy when Carol runs afoul of her rich, blonde nemeses Jean and Joan. The twins are essentially sociopaths, which is more interesting than a predictable, too-tidy reveal explaining why they're bullies, but neither they nor any of the other contestants are especially vivid.
What is enjoyable about the pageant scenes is Carol's rapport with the head judge, a sharp, no-nonsense magazine editor, who's explicitly set up as a feminist role model for Carol. Even before the contest, though, Carol is hearteningly comfortable with herself. She's frustrated with her mother for entering her in Ms. Teeny-Wonderful not only because of the contest's eye-rolling name and premise, but also because it feels like her mom isn't seeing her for who she is: "I knew that I was a disappointment to her when I turned out to be more like a quarterback than a cheerleader. But we had had good talks about my personality and my likes and dislikes. I thought we had it all sorted out."
That Carol finds success without sacrificing her bike-jumping sense of self isn't exactly a shocking conclusion, but it's still such fun getting there — even on what has to be my tenth or eleventh read. While writing this post, I discovered that Here She Is, Ms. Teeny-Wonderful! was actually the first of a four-part series. They're all out of print, but I was able to find one of them for sale online, and it's on its way to me right now. I can't wait to spend more time with goofy, sarcastic Carol Weatherspoon.