Two years ago Nikki Gemmell, now a mother of four, rebranded herself as N.J. Gemmell and started writing for children with The Kensington Reptilarium and The Icicle Illuminarium, neither of which I've had time to read despite meaning to. And now I see that the third book in that series, The Luna Laboratorium is on the way in October.
Last week I found Coco Banjo is Having a Yay Day in the shops and picked it up immediately. Coco Banjo is aimed at younger readers (6+) than her other books and I knew that I could slip it into my busy schedule. N.J. has turned illustrator designer here too and she's done a great job.
Coco Banjo will be a welcome addition to the modern graphic style novel for young (probably girl) readers. The Wimpy Kid series led the charge, and has been wildly popular in Australia, but it's great to see so many wonderful Australian stories added to the genre such as Andy Griffith's Treestory books, and Anh Do's WeirDo series.
Coco Banjo is a student at Banksia Bay Public School. She has a lovely teacher, Miss Bonkiss (I like what she's done there), and a mean principal, Miss Trample, much in the Miss Trunchbull style of principal. Coco is a seemingly normal Australian girl, but her mother is a world famous fashion stylist and is away much of the time. Coco lives on an island in Sydney Harbour by herself.
It reminded me of an inverted treehouse for girls. Coco Banjo is Having a Yay Day is the story of just one day. Coco's Yay Day involves not going to school, staying home painting her toe nails, eating lollies and riding her dolphin. As you do. I could do with a Yay Day myself.
Coco's best friend is N (Narianna), and the mean alpha girl is called Belle. While the school may be typical, with it's bush tucker garden, maths lessons, boring assemblies and looming exams for selective high schools, the kids are modern- they take selfies and have instagram accounts.
Random House have provided a great Teacher's Resource where N.J. Gemmell sets out her aims in writing Coco Banjo. She wanted to reflect life in a typical Australian primary school, for parents to have a giggle of recognition, for Coco to be a positive role model and to empower young girls. I think she has achieved all this and more. Coco Banjo ultimately is a story of friendship and loyalty peppered with dresses, tap dancing penguins and school life. Better yet, Coco Banjo is fun.
Coco's next adventure, Coco Banjo has been Unfriended is out very soon (1/9/15).