The New Kid

May 9, 2019
FROM LEFT: STEPHEN BLUE FOR TIME FOR KIDS; COURTESY ALI BENJAMIN

The Next Great Paulie Fink is a book about middle school. But it doesn’t take place in a typical school setting. Caitlyn and her mom move from their suburban town to a rural community in Vermont. There, Caitlyn begins attending the Mitchell School. It’s a tiny academy where students spend part of the day tending a herd of goats. There are only 11 students in the seventh grade.

Unlike Caitlyn’s former classmates, these kids don’t worry about being cool. On Caitlyn’s first day, one yells, “Dance party!” Then they all take turns doing their signature moves. Caitlyn is surprised: “They don’t seem humiliated at all,” she thinks. “They look like they’re having fun.”

Author ALI BENJAMIN spoke with TIME for Kids. She says she was a lot like Caitlyn when she was young. While writing the book, Benjamin imagined a place where she felt comfortable just being herself. “I wish I had allowed myself to have more genuine, unselfconscious fun,” she says. “I liked creating moments for Caitlyn where she’s able to let go of the rules for how you’re supposed to behave.”