EllRay Jakes is Not a Chicken
by Sally Warner, illustrated by Jamie Harper
Eight year-old Lancelot Raymond, better known as EllRay, is eager to prove that despite his small size, he is not a chicken. When he's bullied by some boys at school, rather than alerting his parents or other authority figures, he decides to "take it like a man" and suffer alone.
There were a number of things that I liked about this novel. Lots of interesting details about EllRay and his family made this early middle-grade realistic fiction novel feel very well developed. EllRay likes Mondays and he likes making lists. He doesn't understand girls. His younger sister is named Alfleta, meaning "beautiful elf" in Saxon, but goes by Alfie for short. His geology professor father seems caring but stern. While the adults can't seem to figure out what's going on, they can tell that things aren't quite right. Being promised a trip to Disneyland if he can have an "incident-free" week at school encourages EllRay to keep things under wraps more than ever. My heart broke for this poor kid, who felt such pressure, at such a young age. I liked that this was a "boy" book, featuring a relatively happy African-American family.
Unfortunately, I can't recommend this book wholeheartedly, as I did have some problems with it. While I loved the cover, I was very disappointed by the interior illustrations. In them, EllRay looks bug-eyed and two-dimensional. The ending of the book left much to be desired. As things grow to a head between EllRay and bullies Jared and Stanley, EllRay finally takes matters into his own hands, meeting Jared for a fistfight. This manages to clear the air, but both boys are disappointed when it's revealed that their parents have conspired to send them to Disneyland... where they'll be forced to hang out together. I didn't think a namby-pamby, "And then the boys all learned to be friends! And they lived happily ever after!" sort of ending would have made any sense, but I was saddened that violence seemed to be the answer to EllRay's problems, and that the adults in the story remained clueless throughout. The final third of the book really dragged for me... I kept picking it up, reading a sentence and putting it down again, meaning this short book took me over a month to read. The book is appended with a sneak peek chapter from the next book in the series. For me, this made an already choppy ending feel even choppier, but for kids who liked the book, that sneak peek chapter will provide reassurance that more of EllRay's adventures are on the way.
I borrowed this book from the library.