Olivia and the Little Way: Gorgeous middle school story

Author: Nancy Carabio Belanger

Illustrator: Sandra Casali LewAllen

Publisher: Harvey House Publishing

Age Range: 9 – 15, depending on reading ability.

This is a sweet story about Olivia, who is soon to commence the fifth grade.  Olivia’s family, it seems, is to move interstate because of Dad’s work.  The good news is that Olivia will be closer to Grandma.  The bad news is that she will miss all of her friends and will have to start at a new school. This story is also about Olivia’s awakening faith and her discover of St Therese and ‘The Little Way’.

While Olivia certainly faces some challenges during the book, she is surrounded by good and strong people – her parents and her grandma. I loved the simple premise of the story that has been carefully crafted by Nancy Carabio Belanger. Olivia nervously walks into her new classroom and attempts to navigate a new set of people and rules. Throughout the book, Olivia grows in understanding and confidence.  In some ways this is a simple and gentle story, and yet there is surprising depth to the lessons that Olivia learns as she adjusts to her new life.

The drama is in the trials of friendships and learning how to fit in to a new place.  I liked that Olivia makes mistakes along the way – she disobeys her parents and ruthlessly bullies a classmate one day in order to fit in with the others. But with the help of St Therese of Lisieux, Olivia recognizes her mistakes and begins to see beneath the surface behaviour of her friends. Instead of walking away from her new friends, Olivia endeavours to influence them for the better.  I liked how St Therese’s writings help Olivia to develop insight into how she might be able to work for good.

I consider this “a girl’s book” because the main characters are girls who concern themselves with makeup, jewellery, and friendships.  Olivia’s mother and grandmother also figure prominently in her life. I particularly liked the relationship between Olivia and her grandmother – it is reminiscent of my own relationship with my grandmother. They play cards, watch quiz shows and enjoy the garden together.  It is so refreshing to read a story that features an intact family that is attentive and caring.

Lessons and messages from St Therese are cleverly woven throughout the story.  A pertinent quote from St Therese is placed at the beginning of each chapter, shining a light on the lesson that Olivia will learn during the unfolding events of the book.

Author, Nancy Casali LewAllen

Younger readers should be able to manage the text due to short chapters and slightly larger text.  Occasional sketches break up the text and provide visual clues to the events of the story. It is probably going to be a difficult book for children who are not strong readers, as it is quite long. There is plenty to contemplate and discuss throughout the book and it would be a great story for grandmothers to read with their granddaughters.

You can purchase Olivia and the LIttle Way HERE

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