Jellaby by Kean Soo (Hyperion, 2008) --a graphic novel about a girl, a boy, and a purple monster
Portia is an only child, whose father has vanished. She’s bored and lonely, unhappy at school, with no friends, troubled by nightmares and the mystery of her lost father. Then, out in the dark woods one night, she meets Jellaby, a lost and hungry alien/monster (?), sitting scarred and alone, clutching his tail (Jellaby is just the sweetest little old thing, in a voiceless, paw-twisting way). Soon a classmate, Jason, finds himself involved in Portia’s plan to try to find Jellaby’s home, and Jason, Portia, and Jellaby are off on a train ride to the Halloween Fair in the big city (Toronto).
And here, in the midst of disaster, with the mysteries of Jellaby’s origins and the fate of Portia’s father totally unresolved, the reader is told to wait for the next volume. Wah! We were riveted to the page! Totally engrossed! The three heroes had just jumped off a moving train! How will they get to Toronto now? Who is that scary bird beak man? Who, for that matter, is Jellaby? The cover doesn’t say a word about this being book one. Humph.
Jellaby is no Barney, and this book is more than a fun story about friendship. There are dark aspects to the plot, most notably the nightmarish bird beak man who might have information about Portia’s father (seriously scary—Portia first meets him shackled to a bench at the police station where her mother is filing the missing person report). Even though she has a mother who clearly loves her, Portia is an unhappy loner. Jason is home in an empty house with no parental care, and the victim of bullies at school. A lot of the poignancy is conveyed in the drawings—a page of Portia pictures in the back of the dark car, getting smaller and smaller as she asks, “Mommy, where’s my Daddy?”, and a whole series of pictures showing Jason eating his cup of ramen noodles, alone. These darker aspects seem aimed at an older audience than the 7-8 year old audience who would be drawn to the making friends with the monster plot.
But in short, this is a great book to give to a second or third grader, girl or boy, who is learning to read, and it is a great book for older kids to read too. And while we wait for the next book, there are some Jellaby shorts up Fuse #8, and at The Secret of the Wednesday Haul