CM . . .
. Volume XXI Number 1. . . .September 5, 2014
Jessie Elliot is a Big Chicken.
New York, NY: Roaring Brook Press (Distributed in Canada by Raincoast Books), 2014.
176 pp., hardcover, $16.99.
Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13.
Review by Natalie Schembri.
Top 10 reasons why there’s NO WAY I’ll ever be SUPERCOOL in high school:
1 – I read too much
2 – I still have a My Little Ponies collection
3 – My parents won’t get me red cowboy boots
4 – My mom still cuts my hair
5 – I like to play scrabble
6 – There’s a unicorn on my pencil case
7 – I don’t smoke
8 – I have Dumbo ears
9 – I go to bed at 9:30
10 – I’m scared of everything
Through imaginative and hilariously detailed doodles, Elise Gravel chronicles Jessie Elliot’s final summer as a child. Gravel’s bold and colourful, cartoon-style illustration exudes the essence of a tween journal—a hybrid of comic form and story narrative—and provides readers with a glimpse into the coming-of-age opinions and worries of our lovable and intelligent chicken, Jessie Elliot. In the fall, Jessie will attend Hochelaga High where there will be girls wearing “gallons of mascara,” the parking lot will be full of “egg-headed tough guys,” there will be “hats that make boy’s heads look like ping-pong balls”, and teens who “look so much cooler with a cigarette [insert sarcasm].” With such wit, Gravel insightfully showcases the genuine anxieties of youth—namely maintaining or making friendships and the concept of fitting in—in the transition into high school.
What happens when Jessie’s BFF Julie befriends the cool girl? How will Jessie spend the rest of her summer besides hanging out with her cat, Ottawa; swooning over the dreamy French-Canadian poet Emile Nelligan; playing tetris; and classifying her eraser collection? Is she really suffering from a mild case of uncoolitis?
I am particularly enthralled with Gravel’s use of lists and diagrams throughout this comic chronicle of youth. The lists and diagrams richly bring the narrative to life as they showcase Jessie’s innermost thoughts and feelings. Notable lists from this story include: Top 10 Reasons Why There’s NO WAY I’ll Ever Be SUPERCOOL in High School, A Partial List of All the Things that Could Make Me Pee in My Pants, List of the Things that I Feel Sorry For, and Why I Like Ben. I also cannot forget to mention that Jessie and her friend Julie are writing a comic book! Within Gravel’s story, readers are privy to the adventures of Super-Pickle. Super-Pickle “fights evil teachers, [their] worst enemy Isabelle Lemoine, The Witch…and all sorts of annoying people.”
Gravel’s story is a clever and colourful work of genius. Move over Wimpy Kid and Big Nate, Jessie Elliot—and her independent and mysterious invented alter ego Coyotita, the lone coyote-girl—is my hero. This story of observations and self-reflection is a must-read for middle-grade readers. Jessie is not a chicken; she optimistically dreams of possibilities for the future. Elise Gravel, please write a second book! In the meantime, I’m inspired to start doodling and list writing with my own set of markers.
Natalie Schembri studies children’s literature at The University of British Columbia.
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