All Four Stars by Tara Dairman is a sweet, scrumptious romp through Middle Grade Land with a classic feel and a lovable, no-nonsense protagonist. Delicious descriptions of food abound––don’t read while hungry!
This book also has a sprinkling of extra wish-fulfillment for writers: the protagonist gets a freelance gig reviewing restaurants for a fictional version of the New York Times (she’s hired based on her samples, and the editor doesn’t realize she’s only a sixth-grader). Read on to find out what Dairman’s lovely debut has to teach us about the kidlit craft.
1. There’s a reason those old-fashioned recipes work.
From the loner protagonist, to the spoiled queen bee, to the parents who just don’t get it, to the quirky kid next door, All Four Stars features your favorite middle grades tropes and more.
The plot is straightforward: through a series of strange coincidences, sixth-grade foodie Gladys Gatsby lands herself a job writing food reviews––but how will she sneak into the city unnoticed to complete her assignment? The book is refreshingly simple and Dairman does a great job endearing us to her protagonist and to the world she’s created. I’d shelve it alongside the Penderwicks series––the feel of the book is different, but it has a similar flavor: light, old-fashioned middle grade fun.
2. A gourmet vocabulary never hurt anyone.
Gladys Gatsby has cooked many a recipe in her young life, and she has the food vocabulary to match. Even the well-versed eleven-year-old foodie might come across a few new words in All Four Stars. But the advanced terminology fits Gladys’s world, where the proper tools will get a pastry to flake just so, and a pinch of cardamom can make all the difference in a curry. Kids will love that Dairman doesn’t condescend––and adults who could use a little motivation in the kitchen just might find themselves inspired.
3. Find your niche.
Is a book about cooking for every kid? No, but novels don’t need universal appeal. I would bet that the originality of Dairman’s concept (a young girl whose parents try to keep her away from the kitchen?) helped her pitch stand out. There’s something interesting about a sixth-grade protagonist whose main passion has nothing to do with her life at school––and cooking is also a timely topic as foodie culture goes mainstream.
Great news for those who loved Dairman’s first book: there’s a second one on the way! In The Stars of Summer, out May 5, 2015, Gladys must sneak away from a dismal stay at summer camp to complete her next reviewing assignment: finding the best hot dog in New York City.
Want to chat more about All Four Stars? Fine me on Twitter: @beckererine.