Recommended for ages 8-12
Ellie McDoodle is the nickname for sixth grader Eleanor McDougal, who fills her notebooks with doodles, journaling the people around her, her family, and her own daily happenings.
When Ellie’s parents announce that they’re moving, Ellie is crushed. She doesn’t want to leave her friends, her school, or her home. She creates a journal to document the move, insisting that “there won’t be much to keep track of… because this is the END of everything good.”
Or is it? Despite some rough patches, like discovering the “New Kid Bingo” card some of her classmates circulate at school or teachers not remembering her name, Ellie learns that being the new kid may not be so bad. Through her own actions, she makes friends, convinces her parents to give her a room of her own in the attic, and organizes her fellow classmates in a peaceful against long lunch lines in the cafeteria. Being the new kid may end up being sort of fun after all.
Ruth McNally Barshaw’s Ellie McDoodle series has been described by Student Library Journal as “reminiscent of Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid“, and it is to some degree: both stories have a vibrant narrator who tells his tale in the first person, accompanied by line drawings. To dismiss Ellie McDoodle as merely a feminine Wimpy Kid is selling the book short. Ellie McDoodle is not a Wimpy Kid clone; it is a smart, sensitive book featuring a character to whom both boys and girls can relate.
Ellie’s family is as realistic and provides a positive family model. The family eats meals together at the same table; they play friendly pranks on one another, like hiding a spooky-looking Mrs. Santa Claus figure all around the house to take family members off guard; even Ellie’s cranky older sister Risa is never outright abusive, but is more of an angsty teen. Her older brother Jonathan is a friendly clown who makes punny jokes, and her toddler brother, Ben-Ben, is a happy baby who gets into everything.
Readers will see Ellie as a positive role model who affects her own change rather than waiting for it to come to her. Rather than succumb to her sadness, Ellie seeks ways to make the best of her situation. She befriends a librarian at the local library; meets neighborhood children and accepts their invitiations to play, a move that helps her cope with insensitive schoolmates. Using her talent in art to help make a difference in her school, her peaceful protest gets not only the notice of the principal, but of the local television station.
Ruth McNally Barshaw’s website
offers information on all of the Ellie McDoodle books and links to more of McNally Barshaw’s art. Readers can find out where she’ll be appearing and read her blog, and create Ellie mini-books and stationery. She offers teens advice on writing their own graphic novels, and has teaching guides available for educators.
The Ilsley Public Library in Vermont created a book trailer for New Kid in School, viewable below.