Child’s Play Review: The Becket List by Adele Griffin

Child’s Play is a regular feature on Pop! Goes The Reader in which I review picture books, chapter books, and middle grade books for the young and the young at heart.

Title The Becket List: A Blackberry Farm Story
Author Adele Griffin
Publication Date April 2nd 2019 by Algonquin Young Readers
Pages 208 Pages
Intended Target Audience Middle Grade
Genre & Keywords Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
Part of a Series? No
Source & Format Received an ARC from the publisher for review (Thanks, Algonquin Young Readers!), Paperback
Find It On GoodreadsAmazon.comChaptersThe Book Depository

Adventure and discover with the bold and intrepid Becket Branch when her family’s move from city to a country farm means big changes!

Everything is changing for Becket Branch. From subways to sidewalks to safety rules, Becket is a city kid born and raised. Now the Branch family is trading urban bustle for big green fields and moving to Gran’s farm, where Becket has to make sense of new routines from feeding animals to baling hay. And as much as Becket loves to yell “Beautiful Alert!” there’s a lot about the countryside that is just plain odd.

But Becket is ready to put her own spin on country life. Whether selling her mouth-puckering lemonade, feeding hostile hens, or trying to make a best friend of her new neighbor Frieda Franca, Becket is determined to use her city smarts to get a grip on farm living. Laugh and learn with Becket as she mucks through the messy, exuberant human experience of change she didn’t ask for, in a story that sparkles with quirky characters and lasting connections.

“That’s life,” says Gran. “Most reliable thing about it are the twists and turns.”

When Rebecca ‘Becket’ Branch learns that her family will be leaving their old life in the city behind to begin anew on Blackberry Farm, her father’s childhood home in the country, Becket is excited about the family’s new adventure and makes an ever-growing “Becket List” of all the things she wants to do to become a true ‘Country Kid’. From being called by her new “cool country nickname”, Becket (Having determined ‘Rebecca’ no longer suits her or feels right), to making a new friend and learning how to care for the farm’s animals to prove she’s responsible enough to own the “real country dog” she’s always dreamed of, Becket is determined to focus on the positive, while her twin brother, Nicholas, and older sister, Caroline, struggle with this big transition. The Becket List is an infectiously fun, upbeat, heartwarming story about looking on the bright side and embracing change rather than fearing it.

Becket is a wildly enthusiastic, energetic heroine who’s always ready to jump into a new challenge with both feet. While it was a little disheartening to see other characters attempt to dampen her spirit by admonishing her to be a little less loud or rambunctious at times, Becket thankfully disregards this advice. Her regular declarations of “Beautiful Alert!” to honour moments or objects of beauty around her and her attempts to help others with her ever-present safety sayings are enough to make any reader smile. All of the characters, in fact, from Becket’s loving, supportive grandmother and warm, compassionate new friend, Frieda Franca, to Laying Godiva, the beloved, ornery hen and Mr. Fancypants, the Branch family’s arthritic senior dog, are vibrant, colourful, and thoroughly lovable. The only exception to this may be Becket’s twin brother, Nicholas.

Because he has such a hard time with the family’s move, Nicholas tends to monopolize their parent’s attention and Becket often feels she has to compensate by minimizing her own insecurities and any difficulties she encounters along the way, like her sadness over no longer being able to share a room with her sister, Caroline. (“…I keep my face a secret. I want to see how bad Nicholas reacts first. Nicholas is a “squeaky wheel,” which means that if he gets really unhappy, then my parents will try to give him special extras to put him in the right mood. Squeaky-wheeling has been working a lot for Nicholas lately.”) This can be frustrating because, however unintentionally, the book gives precedence to Nicholas’ feelings and therefore creates the impression that Nicholas’ feelings are somehow more valid or important than Becket’s. Because Becket is such a good sport and is determined to remain positive, Nicholas’ behaviour and Becket’s response to it isn’t necessarily treated as seriously as it should. While this will likely be considered a minor issue by many, throughout history women have been taught to be kind and accommodating, even to their own detriment, and I was disappointed to see this troubling message perpetuated in this story.

The Becket List is a gentle, optimistic story appropriate for younger readers complete with adorable illustrations by LeUyen Pham, straightforward life lessons and clear, uncomplicated prose I think even reluctant readers will find easy to follow. While change can be a difficult and intimidating prospect for many, The Becket List acts as a wonderful reminder that it’s all about perspective, and that a positive attitude can go a long way toward finding the silver lining in what others might simply see as a dark cloud.

Content Warning: The Branch family’s elderly dog, Mr. Fancypants, dies of old age at the end of the story. No matter the context, animal death can be understandably upsetting for some and I wanted readers to be prepared beforehand in case they found this triggering or a subject they would otherwise choose to avoid.

One response to “Child’s Play Review: The Becket List by Adele Griffin”

  1. Thanks so much for sharing this review, Jen! I love the Middle Grade genre for the amount of hope and positivity that is incorporated and it seems like this one really highlights that.
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