Sunday, September 11, 2011

Book Review: Ellie McDoodle: New Kid in School by Ruth McNally Barshaw (Bloomsbury, 2008)

Recommended for ages 8-12

Ellie McDoodle is the nickname for Eleanor McDougal, a sixth grader who doodles in her sketch journals. She draws the people around her, her family, and journals her own daily happenings.

When Ellie's parents announce that they're moving, Ellie is crushed. She will be leaving her friends, her school, and her home. She creates a journal to document the move, insisting that "there won't be much to keep track of... because this is the END of everything good."

Or is it? Despite some rough patches, like discovering the "New Kid Bingo" card some of her classmates are circulating at school, and the teachers not remembering her name, Ellie learns that being the new kid may not be so bad after all. She makes friends, manages to get her own room in the attic, and organizes a protest against long lunch lines in the cafeteria. Being the new kid may end up being sort of fun after all.

Ruth McNally Barshaw's Ellie McDoodle has been described by Student Library Journal as "reminiscent of Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid", and it is, in that both stories have a vibrant narrator who tells his and her tale in the first person, accompanied by line drawings. To think of the Ellie McDoodle books only in terms of a feminine Wimpy Kid is selling the book short, however. Ellie McDoodle is not a Wimpy Kid clone; it is a smart, sensitive book with a character that both boys and girls can relate to: she has a crabby older sister, a clown for an older brother, and a toddler brother that gets into everything.

Ellie's family is as realistic and provides a role model for families: they eat their meals together at the same table; her older brother Josh makes punny jokes; and they play pranks on one another, like hiding a spooky-looking Mrs. Santa Claus figure all around the house to take family members off guard.

Readers will enjoy the first-person narrative and line drawings and see Ellie as a positive role model. Rather than succumb to her sadness, Ellie seeks ways to make the best of her situation. She heads to the local library and befriends a librarian. She meets neighborhood children and goes out to play with them, and makes friends; this helps her cope with the insensitive schoolmates who find "New Kid Bingo" more fun than reaching out to make a new friend. She uses her talent in art to help make a difference in her school, and organizes a peaceful protest that gets the principal's notice, and the notice of a local television station.

Ruth McNally Barshaw's website offers information on all of the Ellie McDoodle books and links to more of McNally Barshaw's art. Readers can find out where she'll be appearing and read her blog, and create Ellie mini-books and stationery. She offers teens advice on writing their own graphic novels, and has teaching guides available for educators.

The Ilsley Public Library in Vermont created a book trailer for New Kid in School, viewable below.

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