Thursday, June 17, 2021

Branching into chapters: Jeanie & Genie: The first wish by Trish Granted, illustrated by Manuela Lopez

  Jeanie Bell, a brown-skinned girl with voluminous curly hair, likes everything organized and ordinary. But when a pink-hued Willow arrives at her school, she disrupts Jeanie Bell's ordinary life. Everything about Willow sparkles, glitters, and tinkles. Even though she doesn't seem to understand how school works, Jeanie Bell does her best to be kind and welcome the new girl and eventually she becomes the first and only person to be trusted with Willow's secret - she is a genie in training and can grant wishes. Sort of.

This is another title from Little Simon that seems to be turned out to fit a specific mold - sparkly girl stories in this case. There is a little more diversity than I've seen in previous books from this imprint - Willow has brown skin and some reviews say she and her family present as Latinx, after getting deeper into the series. Most of the teachers have names that read as non-white - Ms. Patel, Ms. Martinez. Black and white illustrations are present on most pages and it's a quick, easy reader for intermediate chapter readers.

I've had a lot of requests for Little Simon titles this year, as the teachers I work with are struggling to fill the gaps for readers who have fallen behind. Little Simon can churn out seemingly endless books in these series and kids devour them quickly. However, I often find aspects that are disappointing in them. This book switched back and forth between Jeanie Bell and Willow's perspective in a way that I think an intermediate reader would find confusing. I think making Jeanie Bell white - and a genie with a little lamp to work her magic - is sticky. There are a lot of complex histories and stereotypes wound up in "Arabian Nights" tropes. I also don't like that the Jeanie Bell is positioned as the listener and the person who experiences Willow's magic, rather than having more agency of her own.

This may be overthinking what is basically filler chapter books, but if all kids want is a quick story with a little magic, they can check out Heidi Heckelbeck, which I already have. Admittedly it is not as diverse, at least on the cover, but it's less problematic. I'd go for one of their other series like Mia Mayhem if I was going to invest in another lengthy chapter series. Incidentally, I'm curious as to who actually writes these or if they're group-written (is that a word?) which may account for some of the anodyne qualities.

Verdict: If you just need to fill your shelves - and the kids' hands - with intermediate chapter books, pile this one in. If you're able to be more choosy, I'd go for Zoey and Sassafras, Mia Mayhem, Princess Truly, or one of the Capstone series like Astrid and Apollo.

ISBN: 9781534474659; Published January 2021 by Little Simon; Borrowed from another library in my consortium

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