Jemima Small Versus the Universe is a story about Jemima Small, who lives near the sea with her Dad, brother and Auntie Luna, who lives in a cabin in their back garden.
Jemima is a wonderful character who is warm, funny, kind and very smart. Clever doesn’t cover how intelligent she is, because she has a phenomenal memory and enjoys memorising and sharing interesting facts. All these qualities are overshadowed by the bullying Jemima has to deal with daily in school for being big, which becomes even harder when she has to join the school’s new healthy lifestyle group.
However, it is the people in this group, the other children and Gina who comes in to lead it, along with her family and her friend Miki, that is one of the heart-warming aspects of this story, and all the interactions between them and Jemima are truly memorable. Having this support, along with her exceptional brain, that means Jemima is selected to be a contestant on her favourite TV show, and Jemina’s humour and personality are what makes this such a positive and life-affirming book to read.
Bullying is a central theme to this story, and what makes this a stand-out book on this subject is how Tamsin Winter shows us the complexities of this issue through the situations Jemima goes through. We find out about her dread of the looming camping trip, trying on clothes in a shop, going to the beach. Worst of all is the uncomfortable Science lesson when the teacher Mr Shaw, introduces the bananometer, to see how many bananas class 8N weighs, and therefore needs to weigh each child and convert the weight to bananas and writes each person’s on the board. As implausible as this scene seems, it is so well-told and effective in enabling us to empathise with Jemima.
I don’t want to spoil the ending, but suffice to say it culminates with the TV quiz. I will just say read it and share it with your class, as it is an excellent book to discuss bullying, discrimination, body confidence and being happy with yourself. I am sure, like me, you will remember Jemima Small a long time after finishing Jemima Small Versus the Universe.
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