Goodreads: Izzy Kline Has Butterflies
Source: Publisher for review
Published: March 7, 2017
Fourth grade is here, and Izzy Kline is nervous! There are plenty of reasons for the butterflies in her stomach to flap their wings. There’s a new girl in her class who might be a new best friend. The whole grade is performing Free to Be . . . You and Me–and Izzy really wants a starring role. And new changes at home are making Izzy feel like her family is falling apart. First-day jitters, new friends, an audition . . . How many butterfly problems can one fourth grader take?
Middle grade verse novels seem to be becoming increasingly popular, and they are a nice way to give impressions—both small and big moments—of an entire academic year in a short space. Personally, I struggled with the fact that this one is written in first person. The voice seems wrong for a fourth grader; I cannot imagine someone who is ten years old sitting down and putting her thoughts into verse of this form, nor can I imagine her making some of the observations she does. Indeed, some of the thoughts seem more like reflections from the older author, realizing in retrospect things about fourth grade she did not entirely understand at the time, than like thoughts springing from the mind of an actual child.
Beyond the voice issue, however, the book is a charming one and covers topics and situations that will be relatable to many young readers. Izzy deals with everything from the divorce of her parents to practicing to audition for a part in a school performance to navigating the tricky waters of friendship. Small milestones are marked: the first day of the new school year, a friend’s birthday party, the day of the performance. Even if readers have not experienced some of these things themselves, they surely know other students who have.
Izzy herself is a wonderfully realistic character. She has many admirable qualities, such as caring about her friends and knowing when to laugh at herself, but she also has some common fears, like not really knowing what the right thing to do is sometimes. While I do think parts of the book sound like they are coming from someone older than Izzy, there are other times Ain gets fourth grade just right; she clearly remembers what it feels like to be a child learning to navigate the world.
The book is framed around Free to Be…You and Me, which is a “children’s entertainment project” (according to Wikipedia) that I had never even heard of. (A reviewer on Goodreads remarked that it was popular in the 1980s.) While familiarity with Free to Be…You and Me is not necessary to understand the novel—I got the gist that it’s supposed to be empowering and the title might be alluding to it—I could not help but wonder if the book would be more powerful if I actually understood the references and connections. I also doubt the target audience for the book will know it, and I do question the decision to center the novel on an allusion many readers will not recognize, as this creates distance between readers and the text. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it is odd.
Overall, however, Izzy Kline Has Butterflies is a relatable yet charming snapshot of Izzy’s year in fourth grade. I don’t think the book has enormous crossover appeal for adults, but I do believe it will be a hit with its target audience of young readers. It could also be a great discussion starter about poetry, since verse tends to be prevalent in picture books but peters away with middle grade.