Me and Rolly Maloo
Janet S. Wong, author
Janet S. Wong was born in Los Angeles and grew up in Southern and Northern California. As part of her undergraduate program at UCLA, she spent her junior year in France, studying art history at the Université de Bordeaux. When she returned from France, Janet founded the UCLA Immigrant Children's Art Project, a program focused on teaching refugee children to express themselves through art.
Read more about Janet.
Elizabeth Buttler, illustrator
Elizabeth Buttler, her animatin' husband and their sax-playin' son landed in the Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts, after having traveled all over Robin Hood's barn following the commercial and entertainment animation job market. They worked on projects such as "The Penny Cartoon" for PeeWee's Playhouse, Gumby, Wallace and Gromit, many commercials and had their own studio called Sculptoons in San Francisco.
Read more about Elizabeth.
- Book Links "Lasting Connections"
- Horace Mann Upstanders Award Honor Book
- Bank Street College of Education's Best Children's Books of the Year
Rolly is the most popular girl in fourth grade. So why does she suddenly invite Jenna over? Is it because Jenna gets perfect scores on math tests? Should Jenna help Rolly cheat? Wong writes in the alternating voices of Jenna and Rolly, as well as their classmates, teachers, and parents, and it is sometimes hard to keep track of who is speaking. Still, the prose narratives, along with the pencil and digital illustrations that are sometimes laid out in comic-style panels, nicely express the characters' thoughts and feelings, alone and in the classroom. The story culminates during a math test when Rolly throws a small paper ball to Jenna with a question ("What is #8?"), and Jenna overcomes her hesitation and throws back the answer. The teacher is busy reading her email, but other kids see what is happening. Or do they? Rumors fly, and in one stand-out picture, trendy mothers babble on their cell phones in the supermarket with wild stories about Jenna's guilt. Middle-grade readers will be easily caught up in the cheating drama.
This innovative chapter book from a seasoned author delivers two parallel stories.
During a fourth-grade math test, popular Rolly Maloo passes notes to math whiz Jenna Lee, seeking answers to tough questions. Interspersed with Jenna's straightforward account of a common dilemma is a sophisticated tale in graphic-novel format that places Jenna's story in a broader context. High-stakes testing, cash-strapped schools, principals and teachers vulnerable to pressure from politically savvy parents-all of these elements play roles. The contrast of economically disadvantaged, working moms with their affluent stay-at-home counterparts-treating the PTA as their private preserve, passing their sense of entitlement and ruthless ambition on to their children-is brutal and at times cynical. Much of this, along with Buttler's slyly revelatory illustrations, likely will sail over young heads. How adults influence children's classroom decisions is a legitimate topic, but the format is too short for nuance. Good and evil appear in vivid detail; shades of gray, not so much.
Despite its flaws, this moral fable opens an important cultural conversation about privilege, a rarity in stories for children.
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.
When the local school district changes the rules for the annual math test so that those who fail must forego art, music, and P.E. classes in favor of two extra hours of math class, Rolly Maloo knows she’s doomed. Jenna Lee isn’t the type of person most people notice, so when popular Rolly asks for her help cheating on the test, Jenna can’t resist the chance to be on Rolly’s good side. Janet Wong creates a cast of culturally and economically diverse characters in this novel, which explores the conflict of “doing the right thing” when all you want is to be popular. Jenna’s story is told in narrative form interspersed with graphic novel-style illustrations. Wong’s characters are well developed, from fourth grade teacher Mrs. Pie, who finds her teaching methods restricted by the district, to the students forced to make difficult moral choices to the wealthy parents who defend their wayward children rather than forcing them to take responsibility for their actions. While nobody is punished for bad behavior, the reader is left knowing that ultimately the right choice comes from within.
School Library Journal
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.
Page count: 128
6 x 8 1/4