Ellray Jakes Is Not a Chicken

Ellray cover

Ellray Jakes Is Not a Chicken

By Sally Warner, Illustrated by Jamie Harper

 

Published by: Puffin (May 12, 2011)

Available in: hardcover, paperback, audible audio, Kindle, NOOK

At the time of this review there were six books in the Ellray Jakes series.

 

“…outside is when school really happens for kids.”

True that. Our protagonist in Ellray Jakes Is Not a Chicken is one bullied boy, no more so than on the playground. He also has trouble sitting in chairs without wiggling, not bothering his neighbor (even when she wants it), remembering rules, paying attention, and all the stuff kids are supposed to do in school.

This honest, unfiltered portrayal of what a kid’s life is really like shows why parents can’t solve everything. The little moments of Ellray’s day show why being a kid is sometimes so hard, and how boys and girls handle the early elementary years so differently. In fact, some of the funniest lines in the book are when Ellray tries to explain girls’ behavior or what they look like with their “hair-things.”

Boys in particular will relate to this personable young man. He’s also a very welcome main character because, like Keena Ford, he’s African American. Ellray is refreshingly candid on how this affects him, which provides one of the most poignant scenes in the book. Ellray explains why he and his sister, Alfie, have decided not to tell their parents that a kid at Alfie’s daycare always wants to touch her braids. As one of the few black families in their suburban San Diego community, the kids know mom and dad are touchy about racial issues. The hair problem, the kids know, will make their dad “freak.”

This authentic series is dotted with comic-like illustrations that help keep the tone light, even when Ellray has some serious drama. I especially loved those drawings that play off Ellray’s self-deprecating humor, like calling his wimpy arm muscles the size of ping-pong balls.

I read the Kindle edition, and it was surprising to find a number of spelling and formatting mistakes. Perhaps even the big publishing houses find all this new technology quite a monster to wrap arms around completely.

What do you say teachers, parents and writers? Use the comment below and let’s chat….

Keena Ford

keena cover

Keena Ford and the Second Grade Mix-up

By Melissa Thomson, Illustrated by Frank Morrison

 

Published by: Dial; 1 edition (July 3, 2008)

Available in: hardcover, paperback, Kindle

At the time of this review there were three books in Keena Ford series.

 

No mix-up: Keena’s a star.

I’m pleased to start the New Year with a review of a fresh, inventive, lively, newer series. Current in mood and dialed into today’s kids, Keena Ford is, in my view, an unequivocal success.

Keena is a second grader who lives in a Washington D.C. apartment during the week with her brother and divorced mother. On weekends, she stays with her dad in Baltimore. She’s an effervescent imp much like the Junie B. Jones character, and yet I find Keena more likable, realistic and believable. Call Keena sassy with spunk and a sprinkling of delightful innocence.

Keena also is black, a rarity for a chapter book protagonist. Although many secondary characters in chapter books are of various ethnicities, most protagonists tend to be Caucasian. I do a lot of school visits and those inquisitive, cute faces looking back at me are every shade of the skin rainbow. It’s bizarre that fiction has been slow to reflect that. So Keena is one welcome little girl.

The plots of the three books in the series are also new and invigorating. In Keena Ford and the Second-Grade Mix-Up, a problem with numbers spawns some delicious drama that leaves Keena with real cake on her face. The second and third books revolve around mix-ups on a visit to the Capitol in Washington, D.C. and a lost journal. In the later book, secret thoughts get in the hands of a real meanie, and of course difficulties ensue.

Perhaps what I love most about Keena is her heart and emotional pulse. Kids will understand why she gets mixed up, feel for her as she struggles to find a solution that keeps her out of trouble, and, when trouble inevitably finds her, laugh and commiserate with her fate. She’s emotionally intuitive—she explains her thoughts and emotions without hitting the reader over the head with repetitive excess.

Morrison’s fresh and casual illustrations are life-like, simple line drawings. But each drawing is set in a box, which makes them full and complete. They enhance the text and give the work literary heft.

All combined, Keena has drama, heart and verve that portrays a normal girl—with much more than average results.

What do you say teachers, parents and writers? Use the comment below and let’s chat….