Welcome to the first of what I anticipate being a weekly post dedicated to highlighting one great book for reluctant readers. I’ll kickoff with a book I just finished, loved, and can’t recommend to enough readers- reluctant or otherwise: Jellaby by Kean Soo.
Jellaby is a graphic novel about a young girl who befriends a scared and lonely monster. First off, the cover is great. A large, doe-eyed purple monster with an underbite- it’s kinda irresistible. The illustrations are done in mostly shades of purple and lavender, with bright accents of yellow and green.
Portia, the 10-year-old girl who discovers the purple monster in the woods one night (and soonafter names him “Jellaby”), decides to help him find his way home- wherever that may be. There is a mystery surrounding the origins of Jellaby that mirrors the subplot involving the whereabouts of Portia’s missing father. The story progresses smoothly, and Soo’s attention to character detail and his ability to depict emotional subtleties with an economy of penstrokes prevent the lovable underdogs of Jellaby from seeming overly sentimental or twee.
Kids will be drawn in by the hook- discovering a large, friendly monster with puppydog eyes- but it’s the authenticity of the the main characters, the funny dialogue between Portia and her not-quite-friend Jason, the quiet strength of Jellaby’s latch-key kids and playground heroes, and the cliff-hanger ending that will keep kids turning the pages until the very end.
As I’ve said before, graphic novels are a great format for enticing reluctant readers. This isn’t to say that the content, vocabulary, or storylines are unsophisticated. In fact, I find many graphic novels harder to read than traditional fiction. Grahpic novels are inherrently interactive. They require more participation and active reading. Being mostly visual in nature, the reader must not only read the text, but read and interpret the illustrations. I have found that following the comic panels in the correct order is a skill unto itself- one that I am still developing.
While I give Jellaby a whole-hearted Reluctant Reader stamp of approval, that is simply not doing it justice. Jellaby is one of those rare books that will appeal to a wide audience and deserves to be put into the hands of kids everywhere.