EllRay Jakes is Not a Chicken!

Book Reviews

EllRay Jakes Is Not a Chicken!
Warner, Sally (author). Illustrated by Jamie Harper.
May 2011. 144p. Viking, hardcover, $14.99 (9780670062430). Grades 2-4.

REVIEW. First published June 1, 2011 (Booklist).

Lancelot Raymond Jakes is admittedly the smallest student in his third-grade class—even counting the girls. Trouble seems to find EllRay at school, even when he is trying his hardest to be good for his teacher. And he is certainly trying his hardest this week: if EllRay cannot behave, his father will cancel their upcoming trip to Disneyland. To make EllRay’s week even more difficult, he inexplicably finds himself involved in a “3-way boys’ war” with the two biggest, baddest boys in school, Stanley and Jared, who are intent on humiliating EllRay any way they can. The issue of bullying is addressed responsibly but without many of the tiresome buzzwords and trite approaches often used by adults who don’t fully appreciate the need to save face on the playground. Warner creates a humorous voice for EllRay, amplified by Harper’s winsome illustrations, that is sweet, authentic, and ideal for reluctant readers. Fans will be eager for the next installment in the series. — Erin Anderson

Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books:
Warner, Sally.  EllRay Jakes Is Not a Chicken!; illus. by Jamie Harper.  Viking, 2011.  108p.  ISBN 978-0-670-06243-0 $14.99         Ad Gr. 2-4

EllRay is the smallest kid in his third-grade class, girls included, which has made him the target of bully Jared Matthews. However, EllRay’s habit of in-class disruption has led his father to promise a trip to Disneyland if EllRay can go an entire week without getting into any trouble at school. EllRay therefore decides it’s best to get through the “war” with Jared without any adult’s noticing and simply to suffer through the abuse. Warner has a lively voice and a sympathetic understanding of kid viewpoints; EllRay’s perspective on his school issues is sincerely presented, and his narration clearly details the unsettling feeling of being at the rough end of the bullying relationship (the book also addresses the possibility that Ellray’s minority status, as one of the class, few African Americans, is making him a target but accepts Ellray’s view that the problem is sheer kid-to-kid friction). The book’s treatment of the bullying issue, however, is dated and questionable: EllRay is essentially encouraged to hide the fact that he is being regularly bullied so as to win the much-desired reward, even to the point of resisting the demonstrated concern of several adults (“I don’t like lying to my dad, but in this case, it’s for his own good. Also, it’s for the good of Disneyland”). In a convenient and implausible ending, EllRay’s father invites Jared along on the outing and the two boys have a wonderful day together, despite the fact that the previous afternoon found them beating on each other. Harper’s monochromatic watercolor illustrations have a clever graphic sharpness and offer comic interpretations of textual moments; the facial expressions in particular add to the presentation of EllRay’s growing frustration. While this isn’t the most thoughtful exploration of bullying, EllRay is an appealing character whom readers may wish to follow in future outings.  HM

Horn Book Guide:
Warner, Sally EllRay Jakes Is Not a Chicken!
   108 pp. Viking 2011. ISBN 978-0-670-06243-0
(4) 4-6 Illustrated by Jamie Harper.
EllRay gets to go to Disneyland if he can behave at school. It’s tough not to fight back, though, when you’re being picked on. The Jakes family is African American, and issues of racial prejudice are very vaguely touched on. EllRay’s narration sounds older than a third grader, but readers may find him relatable nonetheless. Black-and-white spot art reflects the characters’ emotions.


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