There are a whole heap of different reasons people love to read books: sometimes you want to be flown away by a dragon, or go through secret doors to other worlds, or find out what it’s like to be some kind of genius football player/ninja/astronaut. Other times, you just want to read a book that’s about a life just like yours. School, friends, mean kids, drama, frogs in undies–you know how it is. And even though I haven’t been a primary school student for about six hundred* years, this felt like it could’ve been about my school back then, and just about any other school around Australia.
Raymond Bulanhagui is a follower. His best friend Zain is beloved by everyone because of his mad soccer skillz, but Raymond’s happy just watching from the sidelines. His school, Barryjong Primary, is known all around for being a bit rough, and to be honest, the students are doing their best to live up to everyone’s expectations until a new principal arrives and decides that what the school needs to get its act together are turning a few of the grade six kids into school prefects. (A type of leader, in case you think I just can’t spell “perfect”.) Zain, a born leader, happily puts his hand up for the position, and Raymond goes along for the ride–so he’s as surprised as anyone when he finds himself elected by Mr Humble as one of the four prefects, along with Zain, hyper-organised Randa, and creative Ally. When their first time up on stage ends with the whole school booing them, the team realise they’ve got a lot of work to do to get the kids on side. And during a sweltering summer, Raymond comes up with a star plan: get some air-conditioners for the classrooms. But when your plan involves something worth tens of thousands of dollars and suddenly the whole school is counting on you, it’s going to take a whole lot of teamwork to get stuff done. And it’s hard to be a team when some of the members are so desperate to be leaders that they forget how to actually lead.
Raymond is an excellent hero: he’s got flaws, he’s got a lot of guts, and he just wants to do what’s right. He’s unsure about the position he’s been catapulted into, but he sticks up to people when they need to hear it, and wants to leave the school a better place than it has been, which means changing the attitude of the students and the whole community. It’s a story chock full of ideas that are mostly realistic (if you have the kind of principal that’s willing to take on a dare-a-thon) and a whole lot of fun. It’s also got friendships, family pressure to be both good and bad, some jerks who just want to ruin everything because that’s what jerks do, dorky parents, and a whole lot of spirit–and all of that equals one great book.
*Actually twenty-five when I bothered to do the maths.