Sophie Hamm (yes, Hamm) Miller longs to be...something. After all, other kids, albeit fictional ones, get to be Leo the Lionhearted, Ramona the Brave, Nate the Great, Harriet the Spy, and so on. It's too bad she isn't even the only Sophie in Ms. Moffly's third-grade class, and has to settle for being Sophie M. instead. At home, she's the middle child of three, which means she can't be Sophie the First or Sophie the Last (not that she wants to be last anyway). She thinks she's too plain vanilla without something after her name that makes her less boring. After trying on and discarding several potential nicknames, she decides to be Sophie the Awesome! But what is she going to be awesome at?
Sophie tells her best friend Kate of her dilemma; although Kate (who is lucky enough to have the option of going by Kate the Great if she wants) can't quite identify with Sophie's problem, she is sympathetic and supportive. After all, Kate tells her, Sophie is awesome. Together, the girls try to come up with something that Sophie can be the best at. Sophie isn't the tallest, smartest or funniest kid in class; that would be Kate, with her penchant for coming up with knock-knock jokes for every occasion. Sophie isn't even the meanest; that would be Mindy, the class queen bee who, with her sidekick Lily, makes it a point to put Sophie down every chance she gets.
Perhaps Sophie can be the best at jumping down steps, leading the music class, or climbing the jungle gym at school. Or, better yet, she can wow the lunchroom kids by balancing four loaded lunch trays on her arms or stuffing her mouth full of french fries. But as each of these attempts ends disastrously (she doesn't have quite enough balance or musical ability, she learns), Sophie is forced to conclude that being awesome is harder than it looks. During recess, she finds something she can be really good at --- beating Mindy's jump rope record --- but that attempt too is foiled.
Just when Sophie thinks her day can't get any worse, she inadvertently blurts out her new nickname to her former best friend and now-enemy, Toby Myers. Will Toby use this nickname to make fun of her in front of the whole class? When Sophie has all but given up on ever being Sophie the Awesome, she finds herself in a situation where she acts in a brave and heroic fashion, without even trying to do so. And now she can be someone, too: Sophie the Hero.
Young readers will relate to Sophie's quest to be the best at something. Her many unsuccessful attempts at learning what makes her special among her peers are both touching and amusing. In the hands of Lara Bergen, the author of over 100 books for children and young adults, this simple story of a girl trying to find her place in her universe manages to be sweet without being cloying. Given that the entire plot unfolds over a single school day, there is not much in the way of narrative depth or suspense here, but that doesn't deter from the book's charm. SOPHIE THE AWESOME is the perfect title with which to kick off this promising new series.