Review: Welcome Back, Maple Mehta-Cohen

 Welcome Back, Maple Mehta-Cohen

by Kate McGovern

Candlewick Press

Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Dena Bach

Starting over is often harder than beginning. In the words of Maple Mehta-Cohen, being held back in fifth grade instead of going on to middle school with her friends, “ruined” her life. Until her beloved teacher Ms. Little-Chan found out her secret, Maple had been able to hide the fact that she couldn’t read from her teachers, her parents, and her two best friends, Marigold and Aislinn. That’s because Maple loves words and books and stories. She loves the look and feel of books, she loves when her father reads books to her, and she especially loves making up and recording her stories with her digital voice recorder. 
But after her old friends abandon her on the first day of school, Maple finds it hard to navigate the loss of her friends, the new class of students, and her placement in Ms. Fine’s reading group with the “kids who need extra-extra reading help.” Still, Maple is a storyteller. Though her stories often get her into some uncomfortable situations, it is through this storytelling, especially the story she writes about a sleuthing eleven-year-old girl Hin-Jew girl like herself (half Indian/half Jewish), that she learns to accept herself and to find value in others.  

Like Maple, author Kate McGovern lives in an Indian-Jewish household. Even so, Maple’s compelling story mostly stays away from any discussion of Jewish ideas, practice, or culture. Though a missed opportunity to address the issues involved in melding both of Maple’s cultural identities, Welcome Back Maple Mehta-Cohen is a fine, respectful, disability narrative. As a charming account of the changing dynamics of loyalty and friendship that are inevitable as kids mature at different rates, the book is appropriate to the target age. And in showing that the children in Maple’s reading group should not be and are not defined by their disability, it empowers each child, and especially Maple, to tell their own stories.
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Reviewer Dena Bach has a BA in Fine Arts from Brandeis University, a BFA in Illustration from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design and an MA/MFA in Children’s Literature and Writing for Children from Simmons University. She has worked as an artist, a bookstore clerk, teacher of two to five-year-olds, and an art teacher. She is comfortable only when there is a large mountain of children’s books on her bedside table.