Wednesday, September 29, 2010
The Bobby Ellis-Chan series by Lisa Yee
In Bobby vs. Girls (Accidentally) by Lisa Yee, Bobby Ellis-Chan really wants a dog, but he's severely allergic to them, and his asthma attacks can sometimes lead to quiet time with a nebulizer mask. His best friend Holly wins a goldfish at the town fair and gives it to Bobby, who gave her the dollar needed to play the game. (Holly already has a pet, a lizard named Lulu, and she doesn't want her to get jealous.) Bobby promptly names his new friend Rover and takes great care of him, but he is initially disappointed in the fish's inability to do tricks or play with him like a dog could.
Bobby comes from an extremely awesome family. I was so happy to see a modern family that was truly happy and functional. That doesn't mean that the family members don't have their quirks - just wait 'til you meet little Casey! - but rather that they all do truly get along, and they love and protect each other. Bobby's father, an ex-football player known as The Freezer, is now a member of the PTA and a stay-at-home dad. He tries to cook, but his odd concoctions aren't always appetizing. Bobby's mom works full-time. His older sister, Annie, is the quarterback of her high school football team. His little sister, Casey, is an imaginative and energetic tiny girl who loves Princess Becky's Planet, a TV show about a sparkly little princess who helps people. Princess Becky is aided by Da-Da-Doo, a pint-sized dragon who blew rainbow bubbles instead of fire. Casey wears her Princess Becky dress and crown all of the time, carries around a wand she calls Wandee, and asks a lot of questions. A lot of questions. She also dispenses advice:
"And if you get scared, shut your eyes and sing," Casey suggested. "Then Da-Da-Doo the dragon will come rescue you."
Happy, hyper, and curious, Casey is hands-down my favorite supporting character in this series, because she's a lot like I was at that age.
At one point, Bobby writes an equation in his notebook that details his ethnic makeup:
+ 1/8 English
+ 1/8 French
+ 1/8 German
+ 1/8 Not Sure
Bobby's friends and classmates also have cool backgrounds, nicknames, and hobbies. There's Chess, who is of Indian descent. His real name is Sanjay Kapur. Then there's St. James, the class clown. He and Holly walk to school together, but always split up at a certain spot known as the Parting Place, where boys go one way to their group of friends and girls go another way. Now bratty Jillian has become Holly's friend, which bugs Bobby. Though he tries to let the girls have their space, when a class election threatens his friendship with Holly, Bobby has to figure out what on Earth happened and how he can smooth things over.
Finally, a book I can pair with the phenomenal Sixth Grade Secrets by Louis Sachar! Aimed at ages eight and up, Bobby vs. Girls (Accidentally) skews just a little bit younger than the audience for Sixth Grade Secrets, but it too casts light on the philosophy held by many elementary and middle school students: Boys and girls can't be friends . . . or can they? At that age, gender wars happen on the playground and in the classroom all the time. Faster than you can say "cooties," two kids who were thick as thieves in kindergarten may feel uncomfortable a few years later if their classmates taunt them with the "K-I-S-S-I-N-G" song. As anyone who reads my blog or enters my bookstore knows, I often discuss the absurdity of gender bias - and I praise books that say boys and girls can be friends, and that anything boys can do, girls can do, and vice-versa.
In the second book, Bobby the Brave (Sometimes), Bobby continues trying to make his dad happy. He does not tell The Freezer that the food he makes are yucky. He buys the cookies his dad made for the school bake sale instead of the delicious treats and temptations made by other parents. He doesn't mind it when people talk about how amazing and athletic his father and older sister are, because he's proud of their accomplishments, but he doesn't want to follow in their footsteps. He'd rather be drawing than playing football. When a P.E. teacher wants The Freezer to come to their school, things get complicated.
Bobby's favorite hobby is drawing. The books feature black and white illustrations by Dan Santat which will most likely be copied on notebooks by readers who are also aspiring artists. It's always clear who is who in the pictures, and I love the fact that the characters come in all different shades, shapes, and sizes.
As she did with her interconnected middle grade books, Millicent Min, Girl Genius, Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time, & So Totally Emily Ebers, Lisa Yee teaches readers about responsibility, honesty, and loyalty in a subtle and realistic way. Bobby becomes very responsible while taking care of Rover. He is never disrespectful of his elders, and he's the type who would rather bite his tongue than hurt someone's feelings. He learns, though, that it's okay to speak up when something isn't right or someone upsets him.
I hope that Yee continues writing Bobby books. They are a treasure for boys and girls alike, and a must-have for elementary and middle school classrooms and libraries.