Friday 16 October 2015

Coco Banjo has been Unfriended

 Coco Banjo has been Unfriended written and illustrated by N.J. Gemmell (Random House)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9780857987358

Reviewed by Jaquelyn Muller

The day Emma Chippendale decided to sit with Sally Haggerty on the bus to my grade three excursion to (the old) Parliament House in Canberra, was a dark miserable day in my then extremely short life. This was tragically relived upon reading Coco Banjo has been Unfriended.

There may be 30-something years separating myself from Coco Banjo, but the inconsolable dismay at being ditched by your best friend, is not restricted to a generation I’ll have you know.

This gorgeous graphic novel comes alive with the images working in harmony with the relatable characters that every kid experiences in primary school, right down to the cranky headmistress, who declares fun punishable by times tables and the hoity-toity mean girls hell bent on creating more misery than a soggy egg sandwich.

Coco Banjo is an off-beat little girl with a career mum who works away, so she pulls in the attention of readers with her flowery terminology and whimsical personality, however she is relatable as she grapples with the everyday challenges of being a girl in middle year primary. Clothes, sleepovers and school camp room allocations are interwoven with embarrassing parent behaviour and a repressive school dictatorship destined to quash the creativity of any ten year old.

A variety of fonts and graphics cleverly break up the text, which make this book perfect for reluctant and voracious readers alike. The pages come alive with punchy dialogue and comical illustrations in the same way that the My Life, Treehouse and Wimpy Kid book series’ have embraced the modern graphic novel.

At the root of all the chaos of Banksia Bay Public, is Coco Banjo’s commitment to positivity and kindness with enough mischief (or as I like to all it creative thinking) to get her out of trouble.  She is an empathetic character and the friend we all need through the monkey bars of life. The very Aussie backdrop is a tribute to our lucky way of life and Gemmell has shared her love of Australian culture in the scenes she has created.
The first book in the series was released earlier this year with Coco Banjo is Having a Yay Day and the third book is set for release next year with Coco Banjo and the Super Wow Surprise. Nikki Gemmell is the author of four novels for adults. Her other children’s titles include the The Luna Laboratorium and the The Icicle Illuminarium.

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