By Kean Soo
Hyperion Books for Children
pbk 9781423103035 $9.99
hc 9781423103370 $18.99
“Awesome! When are we getting the next part?” That’s how one of my 6th graders described Jellaby. I was actually surprised that Nick (Name changed to protect the innocent) so readily picked up this book. The cover seemed a little young and I didn’t thing this title would go over well with my sophisticated, urban, middle school crowd. (It’s already May, so my 6th graders are practically 7th graders already.) And since I hadn’t read the book, I wasn’t sure the story would engage. So as soon as Nick gave back our library’s only copy, I had to take it home and read it too. It was 30 minutes well spent.
Jellaby is about a young girl named Portia who just moved to a new neighborhood and is having a hard time fitting in. She’s smarter than most of the kids in her class and she hasn’t made too many friends. At home, she’s adjusting to her mother’s long work hours and life without her father. So when Portia discovers a big purple monster, alone and afraid, wandering around behind her house, she takes him home because he seems lost. Portia knows that the adults won’t understand if they see Jellaby, so she works hard to keep him hidden. But when Jellaby witnesses Portia’s classmate, Jason, being bullied, Portia intercedes on the boy’s behalf, so that her new friend won’t out himself to the general public. After escaping from the schoolyard bullies, and landing themselves in a heap of trouble, Portia, Jason and Jellaby become instant friends. And in trying to find Jellaby’s parents and home, the three trek out on an adventure that leaves readers with a real cliffhanger.
Originally published online at the Secret Friend Society and later acquired by Hyperion, Jellaby is the work of artist Kean Soo. The story is a mixture of sweet and thrilling. The artwork is spectacular. With three colors, purple, white and black, and the judicious use of other colors sprinkled through the art, Soo conveys extremely loveable characters. Jellaby, the big purple monster, never really says anything, but I still wanted to reach out through the page and hug him. Like a good comic book should, the art and story work together seamlessly, so that the reader will have to read the pictures as well as the words to get a full story – and all the jokes. This title is best for upper elementary to middle school and will be a surefire hit.