Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Meet Chook Doolan

The Chook Doolan Series, James Roy
Maybe you don't need an introduction (there are four books that have been circulating before these latest four), but I needed one.  Like the Hey Jack, Horrible Henry and Dirty Bertie series', the Chook Doolan books are built around a single character and his adventures.  Chook's point of difference, is that instead of being your average boy or a gross boy, Chook is consistently anxious (thus the nickname "Chook" -- a label based on his tendency to be fearful or "chicken").

Of these books, Un-happy Camper was my least favourite (and Esky's).  Having a child who can be quite anxious, I was eager to explore these stories and discuss them, but this particular title felt like it fed Chook's anxiety more than it illustrated how to manage or support it (and in the end it was suggested, "You worried for nothing, Chook," rather than hearing his concerns).  Even the fact that Chook accepts his nickname as his name is a little sad, isn't it?  But it makes it really accessible for Early Readers to quickly understand his character and what he is known for, so I get it.

Esky and I agreed Up and Away was much stronger.  Very early the narrative focuses on a way Chook can manage his anxiety -- he builds an honest pros and cons list -- brilliant!  It continues to supply more strategies, including seeking more information and understanding to dispel fears founded on the unknown, speaking to those experienced in managing a situation that presents anxiety, building on strengths that work up to managing the larger challenge, and assuming responsibility to manage anxiety (seriously -- these are all dynamite tools!  SO much better than the other book, where most people ignored Chook's fears).  I also like that Roy makes an empowering reference to girls when he has the chance in this one.

All of the books are funny (and humour I enjoy -- not relying on toilet humour at all), the chapters are nice and short, and some new terminology is introduced (and with an enlarged, different font).

Let's Do Diwali also provides management strategies (lists, enabling with information, scaffolding on prior experience, finding support in friends) whilst injecting some cultural education!  This one does a good job of sharing the joy of new experiences, even though those can be scary.  I still find it sad that everyone calls Simon Chook and Chicken, although I guess there's something to be said for acceptance (the opening of On the Road phrases this acceptance best, I think).

On the Road has a few negative suggestions that may not have occurred to my girls, which is always a downside for me (including characters who find chess, homework and long drives boring and worth complaining about) -- the worst of which is the repeated suggestion little girls are no fun to play with and only like "dolls and stuff."  Yes, eventually Simon/Chook discovers his underestimated the girls (they like chess, say wha'?!) which is great, but ideally we wouldn't assume the worst of people we haven't met and have to be proven wrong.   Yes, I'm defensive of girls.

These books are more for Ivy's level than Esky's, but she didn't find them appealing and was very resistant to reading them.  So Esky read them to her, and Ivy was converted!  Esky flew through them on her own, but they were very easy for her.  I still don't think it's time wasted.

Overall: If a member of your family suffers from anxiety or can be quite fearful of new experiences, I think the Chook Doolan books are great for discussion and you should check them out.  They don't take long at all for adults to read so they can be up to speed.  If you want a place to start, Up and Away is your best bet, or if you're after two books as a birthday gift, add Let's Do Diwali.  Thereafter you can work your way through the selection -- but I think the others need more of a breakdown (of stereotypes and what could have been done better).  And whereas the Dirty Bertie books rely on being funny (and gross) to hook their readers, and that alone, this series is funny and helpful.  Anxiety is on the rise, and I think these books are a timely addition to an Early Reader's library selection.  A fairly solid readalike for the Hey Jack books.

Review copies received from Walker.

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