Wong and Buttler thoughtfully explore thorny social and ethical dynamics in this graphic novel/prose hybrid. At home with her single mother, who stuffs envelopes to make ends meet, fourth-grader Jenna is shocked when popular girl Rolly Maloo telephones her. Thanks to an opening cartoon in which Rolly contemplates calling Jenna ("Not that she's not nice. But like Mom says, she's odd"), readers will already know what Jenna suspects: it's too good to be true. Rolly, at the urging of a friend, is seeking help for a math test, and Jenna gets caught passing back a note to Rolly during a test the next day. Jenna knows cheating is wrong, but her rationalizations for helping Rolly ring true: "Maybe helping Rolly Maloo with a math answer would be called charity. And instead of calling her a cheater, maybe you could call her someone who is smart enough to ask for help." Buttler's b&w illustrations adeptly broadcast characters' emotions and substantially broaden the story's scope by revealing that adults (the students' parents and teachers) can be as cliquish and conflicted as the children. Ages 7-10. (July)
Children's Literature - Ellen Welty
Rolly Maloo, the most popular girl in school, has called Jenna Lee to come over to her house to play. Jenna is, as Rolly's mom says, odd, and she is definitely not popular. Jenna is so excited to have an invitation from someone like Rolly that she does not stop to think about why Rolly has invited her. Even when she hears Rolly say something about the upcoming math test, she does not really hear it. On the day of the test, Jenna gets hit in the ear by a paper ball from Rolly asking her for the answer to one of the questions. Jenna knows that cheating is wrong but she thinks that Rolly really needs the answer. The rest of the class sees the notes flying and unfortunately so does the teacher. The graphic novel format mixed with traditional text works especially well in this novel, allowing the readers to see Jenna's emotional conflict as well as Rolly's inner thoughts. It also reveals that the motives of some adults are not strictly honorable either. Jenna's teacher finds a way to uncover the truth without making Jenna feel any more guilty than she already does and the solution will make readers think about right and wrong. Reviewer: Ellen Welty
School Library Journal
Gr 3–4—Fourth-grader Rolly Maloo is pretty and intelligent but she fears she is not smart enough to win a coveted spot in a math competition. She uses her popularity to win the allegiance of Jenna Lee, who is smarter but in much lower social and economic strata. During the important test, the in-crowd gets the answers they need, and Jenna gets caught. Who is the cheater? Rolly and her friend Patty had manipulated her, and Jenna capitulated to their demands. Complicating matters are the mothers of the popular girls. Grown-up Queen Bees themselves, they are PTO powerhouses spying from the copy room and demanding action from the principal, who just wants the situation to go away. The true heroes are the other social outcasts, Shorn and Hugo (who tell what they know), and the kids' kind and fair teacher, Mrs. Pie. She cracks the case with deductive reasoning, handwriting analysis, and some very interesting "push-back" on Principal Young's efforts to appease the parents. Wong's inclusion of school administration and "helicopter" parents makes this morality play a painfully accurate portrayal of elementary school political and social dynamics. The characterizations are spot-on, and Buttler's frequent graphic-novel-style artwork and dialogue balloons emphasize reactions and emotions. The easy-reading level and heavy use of illustrations may attract an audience not prepared for the moral ambiguity displayed by the adult characters, but the story is one worth telling.—Lisa Egly Lehmuller, St. Patrick's Catholic School, Charlotte, NC
From the Publisher
"Middle-grade readers will be easily caught up in the cheating drama." - Booklist
Read an Excerpt
Ring, ring! Ring, ring! Ring, ring—
The third day of fourth grade, Rolly Maloo called me up at home. Out of the blue, for no reason at all, she asked me if I wanted to come to her house to play. Rolly Maloo has air conditioning, I bet. But even if her house were ten times hotter than ours, I would go in an Appaloosa minute.
Rolly Maloo is the most popular anybody (girl or boy) in fourth grade and maybe even the history of the whole school, except for her older sister. Marissa Maloo left Edison last year for fifth grade at Hilltop, the fancy private school downtown.
Rolly Maloo spends every recess in the middle of a crowd of kids who let her say everything she wants. I spend every recess sitting under a tree, digging holes in the mud with Shorn L.
Rolly Maloo, what on earth has you calling me, Jenna P. Lee, for no plain reason at all?