Jellaby

Soo, Kean

 

Hyperion Books for Children, New York. 2008. 143 p.

 

I have to say I was a little skeptical about this book when I first saw it. The adorable cover drew me in, but I knew better than to fall in love right away. As much as a big purple monster and little girl endear themselves to me, my immediate thought was: “This is just like Owly!!! What a rip off!!!”

 

(Owly is a graphic novel for children by Andy Runton. Hopefully I’ll have more on that later.)

 

One of my coworkers started flipping through Jellaby and seemed to like it, so I decided to give it a chance. I am so so glad I did. Graphic novels for children are becoming increasingly popular, and I have to say I can see why. Teens all over are pouring themselves into manga and graphic novels. So why not grab the kids at a younger age and get them hooked? But it’s a great format for kids to ease themselves into heavier reading because it combines words and pictures in a lighter way than typical chapter books. Jellaby is one of these perfect graphic novels to bridge early chapter readers to heavier chapter books.

 

The book, which is number 1 in the series of as-of-yet unpublished Jellaby books, centers on Portia Bennett and the big purple monster she finds in the woods that she names Jellaby. Portia, who is some age under 10 I would say, has just been relocated to a new town by her mother after an unknown event has taken place. It can be assumed Portia’s dad’s disappearance may be part of the reason they moved. We don’t know what has happened to Mr. Bennett, but he is gone as far as Portia knows.

 

Portia is well ahead of her classmates, reading Tom Stoppard when others in her class are reading Dr. Seuss, but her intelligence is overshadowed by her distant nature and wandering mind (a staple of smart children I would say.) Her teacher and mother notice her strange behavior, but no one can get a grasp on what is bothering her or more to the point, she won’t let them figure out what’s going on with her.

 

One night Portia walks out of her house and into the woods and stumbles upon a large purple creature. Once she knows he has no plans of hurting her, they become friends and she takes him back home with her. When Jellaby follows Portia to school, he encourages her to help out a classmate who is being picked on. Though this event lands Portia in trouble at school and with her mother, it leads her to making friends with the bullied boy, named Jason. Jason meets Jellaby and also befriends the gentle monster.

 

The plot goes from there, taking us into a story of mystery and danger much more complicated (in a good way) than I would have thought a Juvenile (J) book would take readers. I was disappointed but pleased to find out at the end of the book that this is only the first book in a future series.

 

Even if this book is meant for late elementary to middle school aged kids, I would recommend it to adults looking for a real treasure of a book for any age.

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