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Navigating the Preeteen Period

 

 

Tennessee author Jerry Harwood earned his education from Baylor School, Samford University in Alabama, and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and has enjoyed a varied career – as an educator at both the middle school and college level, program director for a counseling center, a camp director, a first responder – all of which contribute to his ability to explore the mind of a preteen and the challenges that coming of age anxieties impose. JAM SESSIONS appears to be his debut novel, a solid book enhanced by the illustrations of Myles Richardson, a former student of Jerry’s.

There is a tenuous border between children’s books and young adult books, a line often delineated by fanciful versus fictional extremes, and Jerry seems to be at home writing for that age group: preteens, teens, and tweens. In addressing topics such as anxiety and panic attacks could distance some readers of this latter audience, but Jerry Harwood keeps his created story both grounded in real life situations and airborne in the manner in which he escorts his principle character Phillip though the coming of age syndrome (if it can be called that!).


The lightness of the prose conditions the reader from the start – ‘Phillip’s Thomas the Tank clock read 11:47. He knew he was too big for Thomas, but he loved the “choo choo choo” alarm it blared very morning …’ That little moment opens the door to Phillip’s emotional mindset as the story progresses.

In keeping with the easy to read short chapter light format of the book, the plot is summarized as follows: ‘Meet Phillip. His mom relocates him to a new school in the middle of the school year. Things do not go well. Phillip lands himself a trip to the dean of student’s office when he tries to forge his mother’s signature. Maybe if he spelled her name correctly it would have gone better. Phillip also finds himself having more and more anxiety. And the song some bullies are singing is certainly not helping: ‘Phillip Willip, Puddin and Pie. Got a bad grade and made him cry.’

There is one class Phillip has that is going well. It is with Mr. Filter, who starts each day with a writing prompt. These “jam sessions” allow students to be creative and enjoy writing. Phillip
writes about being a basketball on a soccer field. Another day he writes about receiving two dragon eggs in the mail, one for himself and one for a particularly cute girl. But will Phillip ever be able to make his real life go as well as his Jam Sessions?’

Clever concept, these jam sessions, and they provide the key to understanding and identifying with Phillip. Not only is the story organically excellent, but at the end of this book Jerry invites Dr. Timothy Sisemore to contribute information about anxiety and panic attacks, most additive to the quality of this excellent now book – one that hopefully parents will read as well as the youngsters for whom it is written,


~Grady Harp