by Linda Urban
Harcourt Children's Books, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-547-55869-1
Middle Grade Contemporary
Grades 3-5

Reviewed from purchased copy.


A story about small acts of courage from the author of A Crooked Kind of Perfect.

Do not let a mop sit overnight in water. Fix things before they get too big for fixing. Custodial wisdom: Mattie Breen writes it all down. She has just one week to convince Uncle Potluck to take her on as his custodial apprentice at Mitchell P. Anderson Elementary School. One week until school starts and she has to be the new girl again. But if she can be Uncle Potluck’s apprentice, she’ll have important work to do during lunch and recess. Work that will keep her safely away from the other fifth graders. But when her custodial wisdom goes all wrong, Mattie’s plan comes crashing down. And only then does she begin to see how one small, brave act can lead to a friend who is hound dog true.


One thing that Linda Urban always does well is creating characters that live and breathe. Mattie does that from page one.  Mattie is a worrier and very shy to boot.  She never seems to know what to say or when to say it, so starting over at another new school terrifies her.  So she makes a plan.  If she can be her Uncle Potluck's custodial apprentice she can avoid all the 'down' times when she would need to socialize with the other kids (recess, lunch, etc).  She starts keeping notes about everything she learns about custodial science as she helps her uncle the week before school starts.  Things become more complicated when her family starts pressing her to become friends with the neighbor girl, Quincy Sweet. 

Mattie loves to write stories but gave it up when another girl tore up her notebook. Mattie struggles with her fears and desires while trying to convince her family that she is fine. As with all of Urban's books, there is much here to think about in terms of appearances, fears, assumptions, and doing the right thing. I also loved Mattie, maybe because I could relate to her so well.  As a child I too loved to write stories (wish I'd kept them, sigh) and was very shy. Being still quite shy and still loving to write (this blog testifies to that), I really connected to Mattie and her struggles. I loved Mattie's story about Poor Moe (a button) and his going off to have adventures. I appreciated Mattie's growth as she slowly learned how to be a friend and how to face her fears.  This is a perfect book for those kids who sit quietly in class and are often overlooked. Recommended.

Check out some other great middle grade reads here.


  1. This book sounds gorgeous, and the cover is too cute. Thanks for sharing :)


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