“…life isn’t about knowing all the answers. The best we can do is to make peace with our questions, learn who we are, know our strengths, and do the best we can with the gifts we’ve been given while we’re here.”
“All the Answers” is just the book I needed. After reading so much realistic fiction lately, I was craving a bit of fantasy. This is a wonderful middle grade novel filled with laughs and magic. I loved how Kate Messner drew readers in with humor and relatable characters before presenting us with a moral dilemma. You’ll have a blast following Ava as she discovers new uses for her magical pencil. If I could borrow it, I’d ask what kind of magic Kate uses to write such amazing books!
Poor Ava is plagued by a severe case of the “what-ifs”. Her decisions are always well thought out and she avoids unnecessary risks at all costs. Her best friend, Sophie, encourages Ava to try new things, but more often than not, Ava finds a way to get out of it. From the mundane to the unlikely, Ava is afraid of nearly everything.
“Okay, it wasn’t just math tests. She was also afraid of the goats and thunderstorms and getting in trouble and airplanes and her grandma dying and her parents getting divorced like Sophie’s. Also flesh-eating bacteria, ever since she’d seen that one episode of Boston Med.”
Before Ava sets off to face one of her biggest fears, the dreaded math test, Ava grabs an old blue pencil from home and runs out to make it to school on time. As soon as she sits down at her desk, she panics as her mind goes blank. She can’t remember any of the formulas she needs! She scribbles a few ideas in the margins of her paper before giving up. Without really thinking about it, Ava doodles a question: “What is the formula to find the circumference of a circle?” Seemingly out of nowhere, a voice answers the question for her. She looks around, but everyone is still quietly working on their tests. Further in the test, Ava tries scratching another question on the side of her paper. Again, a voice in her head provides the answer. She can hardly believe her luck!
Like a good best friend, Ava shares her new found magic with Sophie. Together, the girls use the pencil to answer some of life’s toughest questions like “When will those boots that I like at mall go on sale?” As they ask more and more questions, they make new discoveries about the pencil’s limitations. For example, the pencil can only provide factual answers, and it can’t predict what decisions people will make in the future.
The girls are startled after sharpening the pencil for the first time. They realize that the pencil doesn’t have infinite lead. Once the lead runs out, so will the answers. They come up with a schedule on how many questions they can ask per day, and vow that they’ll try to use the pencil to help others, which they do. Ava and Sophie ask questions to learn how to help the residents at the nursing home where Ava’s grandpa lives. They’re able to bring smiles to faces that haven’t smiled in a long time.
When Ava tries to find out what her grandpa needs to be happy, she doesn’t understand the answer. The pencil says that what he needs most is her mom’s forgiveness. Ava’s always known there’s been some tension between her mom and her grandpa, but she had no idea that her grandfather has been waiting so long for absolution. Somehow, Ava needs to figure out how to help her grandfather without telling her mom about the pencil.
But this isn’t the first, or even the most shocking discovery Ava will make with her pencil’s help. Ava worries that the pencil has only fueled her worries instead of easing them. What she doesn’t realize is that it’s also forced her to face, and overcome, some of her biggest fears. But in a life where people have free will and so much is left to chance, even a magic pencil can’t provide all the answers.
“…it was awful and scary, but there were still dinners to eat and dishes to clear and math tests to take. And this-all this talking about world-famous baked goods and eating and laughing together, just like always-was exactly how they were going to get through it. Ava couldn’t imagine it any other way.”
As you read, you’ll have so many questions, and not just questions you’d ask the pencil! You’ll certainly wonder how a pencil becomes magical, and how does Ava’s family get it? One of the best kept secrets is who the voice belongs to. I admit, I thought I had it all figured out until the very end!
I love books that get readers, especially young ones, to evaluate the decisions characters make when facing a problem relating to morality. It’s usually easy for us to say that we’d make the right decision, but really we don’t know until we’re faced with it. Being able to make mistakes with book characters means we can be better people in real life. Kate Messner has challenged her readers. She makes you ask yourself what you’d do if you had all the answers.
Title: “All the Answers”
Author: Kate Messner (Follow her on Twitter: @KateMessner)
Publisher: Bloomsbury Children’s Books
You might also enjoy: “The Fourteenth Goldfish” by Jennifer Holm
My recommended age range: 4th -8th