Deborah Abela, The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee, Random House, 1 August 2016, 240pp., $14.99 (pbk), ISBN 9781925324822
I was excited about reading this story after enjoying The Great Australian Spelling Bee on TV. As I watched, I was fascinated by the kids and their different personalities and relationships with their families and their general attitude to the competition. What a wonderful concept for a story! I thought and then bingo! there it was in the form of Deborah Abela’s new novel.
There is a lot to like about this story for mid to upper grade primary kids. The hero, India Wimple, is a shy kid from the small country town of Yungabilla. One of my favourite scenes was early on where India has decided she doesn’t have the confidence to compete – in spite of being an ace speller. The entire township conspires to dress up in animal onesies in the church hall so that she can practise her spelling with their support.
Daryl strolled in front of the audience (in a cow suit), swinging his tail, until he fell in a spectacular, hoof-waving tumble. The audience laughed.
India smiled briefly before trying to focus on the word…She looked out at the onesie-wearing audience. India was surprised: it did make her feel better. P33
This theme of being able to succeed with the support of family and friends is underscored throughout the book. India does suffer from anxiety, but she is able to overcome it with the constant support of her family and a boy, Rajish, who she befriends in the competition.
As part of the spelling competition, readers will be introduced to tricky words they might not already know. Cleverly, each chapter is headed by a new word and definition which foreshadows what will follow.
There is a sub-plot surrounding India’s brother Boo who suffers from chronic asthma which results in some tense scenes. I really enjoyed the small twist at the end too.
Reviewed by Heather Gallagher