Tuesday, August 6, 2013

EllRay Jakes Is Not a Chicken!

by Sally Warner

EllRay (short for Lancelot Raymond), the smallest kid in his third grade class, is being physically and verbally assaulted by a large bully and his follower. Something of a cut-up, and with a short temper, normally EllRay would react to this stress with verbal comebacks or acting out in class, but he’s trying his hardest to avoid all trouble this week, because if he can do that, his normally demanding father will take him to Disneyland.

This is an interesting book that tries to tackle a rather important subject, and despite its humorous tone and slight word count, it manages to hit some points about what gives bullies their power. The book’s message seems to be that parental and teacher involvement is crucial to arriving at a resolution, and that a child’s physical safety is dependent on other students changing their attitudes toward bullying from standing by to directly intervening. Of course, this is a bit of a cop-out, since parents and teachers often remain unaware of silent, persistent bullying, and students almost never rise up en masse to take the side of the weaker party, except in TV shows and books.

Aside from the bullying issue, I admired how Warner kept her prose simple, and used EllRay’s narration to explain some expressions that kids might not get such as “enlighten me” or “bad vibes” which she has the adults employ. I was distracted by how many times EllRay made flat pronouncements about what boys and girls do, such as: “boys don’t skip,” “girls are neat,” “girls don’t tattle,” “girls know how to spread their misery around,” and so on. I realize this is an eight-year-old boy talking, but I’m not sure I approve of perpetuating these stereotypes in kids’ books. I also wondered at Warner’s depiction of the teacher, who while wise in the ways of her kids’ behavior, must “check her notes” constantly while giving lessons or defining unusual words. What might be Warner’s point there – that no one has all the answers, teachers are too overworked to prepare themselves for lessons, or what? In any case, I think kids will identify with the funny, put-upon EllRay, who explains himself and his world so well while dealing with pressure from parents and peers alike.

three stars

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