I read the first Ellie McDoodle Have Pen Will Travel at about the same time as the Wimpy Kid frenzy hit our school. I was looking for a girl alternative and liked it pretty well. It wasn't as funny as Wimpy kid, but the drawings were good and there were some funny parts, but I just couldn't get it to fly off the shelves like the Wimpy kid.
Having just finished the second Ellie McDoodle New Kid in School, I think I can get it to move. Ruth McNally Barshaw has really taken Ellie places in this installment. In the first, there seemed to be too much direction on how to play games, make friends, create crafty things, in other words, like Mary Lee said, "It was just an instruction manual on how to be a kid." I liked it but it didn't have the kid appeal.
In New Kid in School, the author deals with the hardships faced by a student who has to leave the only home she has ever known, and move to a new town a couple of hours away. Ellie goes through all of the typical separation anxiety missing her friends, her room, her neighborhood and her school. She is worried about what the new kids will think of her, and it's even tougher since she moves to a small school where all of the students seem to be related to one another.
Thanks to a friendly children's librarian Ellie finds a comfortable safe place to get away from the craziness of moving. Thanks to a neighborhood boy she makes a first friend who helps her make even more. I especially like it that there is not "romance" involved, just a good friendship written in age appropriate terms.
I really like that Barshaw doesn't make the first girl to approach Ellie work out to her lifelong best friend forever. In fact, the visit is boring and Ellie looks for a reason to escape early. On a second visit to another classmate, Ellie is impressed with the material things, fancy house, fancy clothes, and any THING a kid could want, but realizes that it's just not comfortable for her. The third classmate that invites Ellie over has a normal family with a Down Syndrome brother who develops a crush on her. At first Ellie is a bit uncomfortable with this, but as time goes on she learns that this is a good friend and a great family.
Ellie leads a protest in school against long lunch lines and bad food that get her recognized as a leader and friend. The book may have bit of a "storybook" ending, but not too cheesey, and I liked it. The drawings are very fun, especially the one of Ellie's classroom view from the back row when she is wondering how she will ever learn to know people when all she sees is the backs of their heads.
I'm pretty sure this book will move pretty easily in the library to both 4th and 5th graders. Like Wimpy Kid, it will appeal to both boys and girls.
Look to Quill Inc. for another review and The Reading Zone here.