Friday, July 22, 2011

Nikki & Deja: Election Madness by Karen English, illustrated by Laura Freedman

These characters were so realistic they annoyed the heck out of me. Which, I suppose, is the hallmark of a good writer. Bossy Deja and her best friend Nikki are dealing with normal, everyday problems – Nikki thinks her parents might be getting a divorce, Deja is mad that her aunt won’t let her eat candy…then their teacher announces that the elementary school is going to have a student president. Deja is absolutely sure she is going to win and goes into action right away, appointing Nikki her campaign manager and bossing people right left and center. She thinks her only serious competition is perfect Antonia, but Deja is in for a big surprise.

Unfortunately, Deja never really learns anything from this encounter. She ignores Nikki’s concerns about her parents, makes everyone else on her “team” do extra things for her, and dismisses Yolanda because she’s fat and unpopular. Readers will be relieved when Deja gets a small measure of comeuppance and is disappointed in her bid for even more control, but all Deja takes away from the experience is the belief that she didn’t win because she is only a third grader – next year, when she’s a fourth grader, she’s sure she’ll make it.

Nikki and Deja’s friendship was what bothered me most. Younger kids often do have friendships with less give and take than adults. The more aggressive and confident ones will take charge and the others will be content to follow. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good model. Nikki stands up to Deja a few times, but as soon as Deja needs her back to bolster her ego, she falls in line.

Like I said, these characters are so realistic they’re annoying. Deja is the type of little girl who usually has books written about her, making her look cute and funny. Maybe it wasn’t the author’s intent, but Karen English seems to have shown her in a more balanced light, showing how she hurts other people’s feelings and isn’t a very good friend because she is so focused on being in charge and her own ideas and wants.

Verdict: This is a very realistic story of girls’ friendships in school – read and discuss with your own young girls or it would make a great choice for a book club, talking about healthy friendships and how to deal with bossy and controlling friends.

ISBN: 9780547435589; Published July 2011 by Clarion; ARC received from publisher at ALA

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