JoJo’s Flying Side Kick by Brian Pinkney.
First published by Simon and Schuster, 1995.
My edition Houghton Mifflin, 1999.
Picture book, 32 pages.
Lexile: 590L .
AR Level: 3.2 (worth 0.5 points) .
NOTE: This is a work of fiction, although I’m not reviewing it on Fiction Friday.
JoJo’s happy living with her mother and grandfather and practicing Tae Kwon Do with her friends. But she has two big problems. The first is the scary tree at the end of her driveway, and the second is her yellow belt test, where she needs to break a board with her foot.
Pretty much I have the whole Pinkney family on auto-buy because there hasn’t been one of their books I’ve disliked yet. They are usually a hit with students as well. This is not the most popular one but a very solid addition to the Pinkney canon.
Brian Pinkney both writes and illustrates this one in his classic style. There is a lot of movement in the book and the art is very dynamic. Most of the book is realistic, but there is a fantastical element when JoJo is imagining the “creepy tree bandit” coming to life. I related so much to this fear because there was a tree I was afraid of as a child, and two that were my ‘friends’. (L.M. Montgomery entered my life young.)
The text to illustration ratio is pretty good, although there are a few points where the text is a little longer, indicating that this is probably better for kids above first grade. It still works as a read aloud for older students though.
I really appreciated seeing a book about martial arts featuring a black girl. It seems like there are many books about white or Asian kids participating in martial arts, but few featuring African American kids. I also liked that JoJo was at the early levels, not about to get her black belt in elementary school! The support from her family was also touching. At and directly after her test, her grandfather speaks to her, but even without any lines in the text, her mother is there in the illustration, front and center.
Kids who are working on overcoming fears or who take martial arts classes would enjoy this book. JoJo practices visualization and belly breathing to overcome her fears, so this book has some teacher or counselor applications as well. Even if there isn’t an immediate connection to the topic, the general themes of facing your fears, seeking advice, and gaining skill at a hobby through practice and instruction are common to all children. This isn’t a must-have, but it’s a very solid book to add to your collection or check out from the library. Recommended.