EllRay Jakes Rocks the Holidays! by Sally Warner
Fact: When I read a great book, usually I immediately want to pick up another book and start reading it. When I read a book I don’t enjoy I find it very hard to start a new book.
So let’s be completely honest. I did not enjoy EllRay Jakes Rocks the Holidays! and I would not recommend it. There is absolutely no reason for this to be set at the holidays. There’s a holiday concert. That’s it. And this holiday concert could just as easily be any type of school performance or talent show. Because the holidays don’t have anything to do with anything here.
What this book did have to do with was race. And it’s handled awkwardly and uncomfortably. By a white author.
EllRay talks about his parents and how they make a big deal if they they think any trouble at school has any relationship with race. It’s obvious that he is really uncomfortable that his parents (particularly his father) feel this way. And it may be a valid issue. Maybe kids want to fit in badly enough that there is shame in their parents acting this way, but coming from a white author, it is tinged with an undertone of “because race isn’t really an issue”.
Then there’s the whole fact the whole matter that classmates spend a lot of time considering that EllRay and another student, Kevin, “match” or should be friends because they share the same skin tone. While I find it believable that there may only be two black students in a class, I find myself wondering why all the other students are white. Aren’t there students of any other different backgrounds and skin tones? Why are these two the only ones identified as having skin that is “not white.” The teacher herself, Ms. Sanchez, is Latina.
But why focus on race. It’s really our genders that separate us, you know? Because boys don’t have feelings (or so EllRay thinks until proven wrong)! And girls do things differently! I cannot even begin to count the times boys and girls are different comes up.
So if you’re looking for a book that utterly lacks holiday spirit, enforces gender stereotypes and reduces racial issues to something a third grader rolls his eyes at, well, I’ve got it for you, right here.
Race – There’s a brief mention about moving to a place where not many people have brown skin and how his father is waiting for something to happen but nothing has. Evidently another preschooler was charging people a penny to touch Ellray’s sister’s hair because it is “different”. There were parent meetings about this and it was called a misunderstanding and people “moved on.” Mom misses her hair salon so much she drives back to the city for it. There’s a lot of talk about brown faces and which shade of brown crayon should be used – all dictated by a white girl, who is supposedly an artist. Then a white girl suggests he be partners with the only other black kid in class because “they match” which is an issue in the book. EllRay’s dad tells him that he and Kevin have to stick together even if they have nothing in common. That they are “linked”. Kevin (the one other black kid) drops the letter g from words like playing and talking. He uses phrases like “throwing shade” and “dissing” and “dog,” which EllRay says he got from his older sister who is into hip-hop. EllRay’s sister Alfie says that her white barbie is winning the pretend beauty contest she is having. EllRay suggests that maybe the one with “Beyonce-colored” skin should be winning but Alfie says no. There’s a bit about how his dad’s father (a Navy doctor) was worried about gang activity in the area.
Sex, Nudity, Dating – One girl’s father lives in England “with his new family”. EllRay is dared to tell a girl he loves her (he does not). The girls are told to “tone down” their dance moves.
Profanity – “shut up,” “dumb,” “darn,” “dang,” Some kids dare EllRay to yell out a swear at the holiday show.
Death, Violence and Gore – There’s a random simile involving a vampire slurping up blood.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – None.
Frightening or Intense Things – None.