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….

The Life of Ty

ty cover

The Life of Ty: Penguin Problems

By Lauren Myracle, Illustrated by Jed Henry


Published by: Puffin; Reprint edition (May 2, 2013)

Available in: hardcover, paperback, library binding, Kindle, NOOK

At the time of this review there were two books in The Life of Ty series.




Young Ty is a sweet and tender heart, and oh so very seven. Not the stereotypical seven-year-old boy who is all bravado and action, but a real boy who is innocent and guileless and still needs his mother. Problem is, she has a new baby, and this takes all of her time.

This brings a story slim on plot, long on character. The point of view is squarely in Ty’s mind, which is refreshing. And at times, a little hard to follow. Stream of consciousness can be a bit clunky when a new character is in his first book, since we have no past reference for friends, actions or feelings. Thus, anytime something comes up, Ty’s narrative explains it. Which can get in the way of forward progress.

That’s my only criticism. Once the reader gets in the groove of the writing, The Life of Ty: Penguin Problems is a glorious book. Ty’s school world feels utterly real with little details, such as “crisscross applesauce” and morning meetings instead of rote lessons. His family is absolutely believable in the complicated way of families: love them and hate them, depending on the moment. And his friends are interesting, crazy and touching.

Two friends in particular will hit a chord with most readers. Lexie, the girl with whom he plays most often, is sometimes a little too wild. This bothers Ty. Also, another girl wants Lexie as her best friend, which pushes Ty to the sidelines. That’s hard for Ty, and hard to watch. And then there’s Joseph, Ty’s best friend, who happens to be in the hospital with leukemia. When they interact, it is to have fun scaring each other with funny noises, make jokes or talk about goofy stuff. Nowhere does this get maudlin. The reality of this health crisis is grounded and eye opening.

Author Myracle does a stellar job embracing the ultimate writing rule: we are shown Ty’s world, not told about it. That visual and honesty is both charming and heartbreaking. Real life, real problems, real boy. The final scenes involving a penguin stretch the believability factor, but it’s a comic plot twist that readers will enjoy.

The illustrations by Jed Henry maintain the easy ambiance of the text. But with just one or two per chapter, I only wish there were more.

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


Iconic Pippi Longstocking




By Astrid Lindgren

Illustrated by Louis S. Glanzman

Translated by Florence Lamborn



Published by: Puffin; Reissue edition (April 21, 2005)

Available in: paperback, hardcover, audible book, school & library binding

There were three books in the original Pippi Longstocking series and a number of later novels, picture books, movies, TV shows and more.


Iconic imp.

Pippi Longstocking is a mischievous, curious, especially strong girl who has become a truly classic character in children’s literature. Written by Swedish author Astrid Lindgren for her sick daughter in the 1940s, the original book has been translated into more than 60 languages and earned the author the Hans Christian Andersen Medal for her contribution to international children’s literature.

So Pippi has some heft.

Many of the older classics I’ve re-read for review hold more value in nostalgia than lasting quality. Pippi, not so much. She’s a true giant in original thinking, the channeling of childhood intellect, and the sheer joys and realities of being young.

That’s not to say there aren’t issues to be acknowledged. Consider Pippi the Lord of the Flies of the elementary set—a child set free in the world to exist as she sees fit. That obviously sets up topics and situations some modern families find problematic. There’s pure anarchy of home life, disrespect of authority, a lack of heart on the topic of dead or missing parents, and far, far too much sugar in the diet.

On the other hand, Pippi is a strong girl with sense and wit and charm. What fun to see what happens when a child is put in charge. She is as bold as she is innocent, and the sheer pleasure of reading what she will do next is worth every ounce of reticence. Pippi transports to the wonderland of childhood lived on a whim. Bad behavior and all, reading Pippi is a magical event.

For younger readers, this will prove a tough read, unfortunately. The text is heavy, and the illustrations are few and far between. It’s an intimidating book to thumb through. Perhaps the best solution is the sweetest—where parents and children read the book together. That way both the excitement and confusion Pippi inspires can be talked about, and the adult can help the child when reading becomes too dense.

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


Pink Princess Posey



By Stephanie Greene, Illustrated by Stephanie Roth Sisson


Published by: Puffin; Reprint edition (May 27, 2010)

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

At the time of this review there were seven books in the Princess Posey series.



Princess Posey and the First Grade Parade is a delightful, easy romp of a read. Girls ready for early chapter books will feel totally comfortable within the pages, a consistent field of easy words, ample white space, bold graphics and short chapters.

Although not complex, the plot is a harvest of feelings and problems that first grade children know so well. Topics touch on concern about the first day of school, sibling rivalry and the frustration of not always being in control of what to wear (an especially touchy subject for certain children). There are also examples of feeling shy, which morph nicely into brave moments. There’s even that awful but predictable scenario played out in so many childhoods: neighbor kids delight in making a frightening situation exaggerated into something even worse than imagined.

In the end, a delightful collaboration provides the solution to the problem. It’s a nice wrap on a short tale that covers a lot of familiar ground.

The illustrations add a soft, warm glow with just enough quirky edge to be unique and interesting. I love how artist Sisson portrays a freedom in the shading that make it appear as if the art is loose and alive, even if colored within the lines.

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