________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 22 . . . . June 27, 2008


Julia Gillian (And the Art of Knowing).

Alison McGhee. Illustrated by Drazen Kozjan.
New York, NY: Scholastic Press (Distributed in Canada by Scholastic Canada), 2008.
280 pp., hardcover, $17.99.
ISBN 978-0-545033-48-0.

Subject Headings:
Saint Bernard dog-Fiction.
Minneapolis (Minn.)-Fiction.

Grades 3-4 / Ages 8-9.

Review by Myra Junyk.

*** /4


No, this was not a typical summer. This was, instead, the summer of nine-square-block walks. It was the summer of Enzo reminding Julia Gillian to remember her parameters. It was the summer of frequent wearing of the raccoon papier-mâché mask. It was the summer of the green book, sitting silent and closed on her bookshelf. It was the summer when Julia Gillian admitted to her dog that she was scared. Was this what happened when you turned nine and began to grow up?


Julia Gillian is having an unusual summer in Minneapolis. Since both her parents are teachers who are taking summer courses, Julia is often left to her own devices. At age nine, she is allowed to take walks on her own within a nine-block area, but she must check in with Enzo, her teenage babysitter. With her dog, Bigfoot, Julia roams the neighbourhood. She talks to the little girl across the street who is afraid of going to kindergarten in September. Julia tries to cheer her up by telling her that she was also afraid of going to school at first – but soon got used to it. Julia also ventures as far as the Hardware Store where Mr. Bryant allows her to play the claw machine. She hopes to win a meekrat toy but only wins a bat. Her dog is pleased, but Julia is disappointed. When she buys a green book to read, she starts to read it but stops because she fears that the dog in the book will die. She is afraid to finish the book!

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     It seems to Julia that everything is so unfair this summer! Her parents haven't taken her on any trips or excursions because they are busy studying. They don't even seem to have time to talk to her about her "green book" fears. Enzo, however, encourages Julia to read the green book – even though she doesn't want to! Why should she do something she doesn't want to do?

     The main character, Julia Gillian, is an energetic, somewhat precocious, nine-year old who thrives on being different. Even her name is different. "She was one of those rare people who had a first name for a first name and a first name for a last name, and all her life everyone had called her not just Julia, but Julia Gillian." Her parents encourage independence by leaving her on her own a great deal and by telling her that she is "skilled in the art of knowing." Julia loves to make papier-mâché masks to wear while walking around the neighbourhood. Very different indeed!

     However, Julia does learn a lot this summer. She learns that reading can be fun – even if the ending of the book is sad. She learns that helping people can be enjoyable and that she can make a difference in the world. And most importantly, she learns that she must always keep learning about the world. "You realized that some things you had always taken for granted were not, in fact, the way you thought they were."
     Julia Gillian (And the Art of Knowing) will appeal to young readers who are making the transition to chapter books. Although the book is rather lengthy at 280 pages, there are wonderful illustrations to break up the text. The actual text is well spaced to accommodate readers who are just starting to read longer books. Drazen Kozjan's pencil drawings add visual interest to the text while revealing a lot of detail to young readers who can see what characters look like and get a sense of place. On pages 8-9, Kozjan shows readers Julia's room – the view from the window, the bean bag chair, and the butterflies on the ceiling. This is the room of a very creative child!

     All in all, readers will enjoy this gentle story of growing up during a sleepy summer in Minneapolis.


Myra Junyk is the former Program Co-ordinator of Language Arts and Library Services at the Toronto Catholic District School Board. Currently, she is working as a literacy advocate and author.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.