The creator of the series about third-grader Emma McGraw (Only Emma, 2005, etc.) focuses on a new character here: EllRay Jakes, one of Emma's classmates.
EllRay, a likable everykid with a sense of humor, is getting picked on; he doesn't know why, nor what to do about it. EllRay's voice is chatty and authentic, especially in articulating kids' and adults' perceptions of the playground dynamic: "Ms. Sanchez is smart about what goes on inside her classroom, but she doesn't know what goes on outside—before school and during nutrition break, lunch and afternoon recess. And outside is when school really happens for kids." When bully Jared reveals he's after EllRay because EllRay once hurt his feelings, it feels a bit pat, although the resolution is realistic: The boys don't become best friends, but they learn to get along. EllRay is African-American in a predominantly white school; race is addressed openly here (he sometimes wishes there were more kids who look like him; his father suspects—incorrectly—that race is the reason EllRay is getting teased) without serving as the main issue, which is refreshing.EllRay's struggles and eventual success coping with bullying, a hot-button topic, ring true, and kids who enjoyed previous Emma stories will appreciate this take from the boys' side. (Fiction. 7-11)