Minn and Jake
—Bank Street Best Children’s Books of the Year
—Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books Blue Ribbon
Foster/Farrar, Straus & Giroux (2005)
From School Library Journal
Grade 3-5-Minn, the lonely young narrator who has just lost her best friend asks, “Do you ever feel this way?” establishing a connection to readers on the first page of this short novel. Wong’s free-verse writing suits this warm story of unlikely friendship between “odd- pigtailed- and very much alone” Minn and Jake, a newcomer to fifth grade who is short and “has a new spiky haircut/-that makes him look/like a baby crow.” The connection for them is lizard catching, an after-school activity unique to their community of Santa Brunella. Minn is good at it, Jake is terrified of lizards. The plot twists through the few emotional tight spots successfully: Minn’s determination not to “waste her time/on that city boy Jake,” and, in turn, Jake’s rejection of Minn when he bluntly hangs up on her. Just in time, the story develops tension through the class bullies, Vik and Henry, who make Jake’s life miserable, tormenting him about his fears. Ultimately, however, Jake proves his mettle. Cote’s whimsical, spare black-and-white sketches are reminiscent of drawings that might be found in a fifth-grade student’s notebook and work well with this story.
Lee Bock, Glenbrook Elementary School, Pulaski, WI
Gr. 4-6. Chapters written in free verse make up this gentle, funny novel about “true best” friendship and the pain of sticking out and being different. Minn is the tallest kid in her class, and when her best friend, Sabrina, seems to desert her, Minn feels “pigtailed / and lizardy / and alone.” Then small newcomer Jake comes to school. “How can a fifth-grader / be so short?” the class wonders. At first Minn, who lives to watch lizards and roam in the woods, dismisses Jake as a “city boy / slowest runner / laziest napper / and a good-for-nothing lizard catcher.” But gradually the two form a fierce, unlikely friendship. Wong writes with kid-friendly humor (Minn’s dad once caught cockroaches with barbeque tongs) and an appealing rhythm that captures, at times, a child’s repetitive storytelling style. With simple, distilled details, she also creates full, lovable characters in Minn and Jake–tough, precocious oddballs who find a strong sense of themselves in each other’s differences. Cote’s appealing, whimsical sketches are a nice touch. Gillian Engberg