Beatrice Zinker is back for another fun mission in Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker: Incognito. This illustrated chapter book series from Disney Hyperion is about a true individual using her unique perspective on the world to bring out the best in others. Through this story, kids will unintentionally learn that there are many different ways to communicate and connect with people.
Beatrice and her best friend Lenny are ready to implement “Operation: Upside,” a secret initiative to celebrate the unique talents of their classmates with “Upside Awards.” They plan to give the first award to a boy named Wes for being the most special, but instead give the first one to their teacher, Mrs. Tamarack, for being the “Most Strict.” They see it as a good thing, but Mrs. Tamarack is upset to receive the certificate in her homework tray.
Mrs. Tamarack demands to know who gave her this award certificate, causing fear in Beatrice and Lenny. Things would be easy if this was the only award they had handed out, but when Beatrice stealthily snuck into the classroom and delivered Wes’ certificate to his box upside down, she accidentally put it in the box of a closed-off, unhappy girl named Sam (picture the names wes and sam upside down and you’ll see how she made this mistake).
As the title suggests, Beatrice goes incognito, joining her sister’s foreign language club to try and connect with Sam, who wants nothing to do with her or anyone else. She tries everything to get Sam to warm up to her, an impossible challenge for ordinary students, but not for the stealthy spy Beatrice.
Due to the spy theme, I initially expected this book to feel more like Harriet the Spy, but it has very little in common. I missed out on the first volume, which was reviewed by Rebekah (check out her review here), but I found it easy to understand who the characters are and this is a self-contained story that doesn’t require knowledge of the prior book in order to enjoy. The title tells you everything you need to know about the main character, which is that she does her best work when allowed to be upside down. Although in this story, it’s the very thing that gets her into this situation to begin with.
Author Shelley Johannes also serves as illustrator, with two-tone images (black and teal) on almost every page. They are sometimes cleverly inserted into the story in place of conventional text, such as when a hand-written list is used as an illustration. She has a very unique style and each character is instantly readable through her great use of shapes. Beatrice in particular uses buns on the side of her head, similar to Princess Leia, to make her extremely visible (ironic for a character who is trying to be incognito).
Kids will hopefully be inspired by Beatrice’s commitment to being herself regardless of what others think and her desire to pay it forward by recognizing and celebrating great qualities about her classmates and teacher. You might not have a Beatrice Zinker in your school, but every kid will want to be at least a little bit like her. Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker: Incognito is a fun story about friendship that will also teach kids about morse code and naval flag language.