Book Review - Gabby & Gator

Author/Illustrator: James Burks
Publisher: Yen Press (September 28, 2010)
Age Level: 4th to 7th grade (independent reading level) - Enjoyment level 4 to 80
Source: Personal Copy
Rating:  5 out of 5 stars

Description from GoodReads:
Little Gabby doesn't quite fit in with the kids her age. She's more concerned about saving the environment than gossiping with girlfriends. Gator doesn't fit in - well, anywhere really. Flushed down the toilet when he was just a little snapper, Gator's closest friends are probably the dogs in the neighborhood around his sewer home - and he eats them! When Gabby and Gator meet, they find in one another that rare individual who will appreciate them for who they truly are.

Over the past year or so, I have learned some things about publishing.  It seems sometimes publishers make decisions that make it harder to promote a book or get it into the hands of readers.  Additionally, authors, especially new ones, are limited in how much they can say or do about it.  This is where bloggers or reviewers can get involved.  We can get the word out about a book, where to find it, and help get it into the hands of readers.

James Burks debut book, Gabby & Gator, is one of those books.  If you are looking for the book, head straight to your favorite on-line ordering source because with the exception of Borders/Glendale, you will not find it in any local bookstore.  Second, booksellers aren't sure where to list it.  Is it a picture book? graphic novel? Is it for preschool? middle grades? Young adult?  Yes!  It is a bit of all of that.  Let me tell you how I see it....

Burks' Gabby & Gator is a story of friendship, acceptance of individual differences, and empowering children to stand up to bullies. It is funny, quirky, and wonderful on many level.  Burks' illustrations are bright, bold, cartoon-like, and draw the reader into the story.  (I apologize for my lack of artistic terms...what I am trying to say is I enjoyed them.)  Gabby is a little girl who follows a to-do list, eats a vegetarian diet, and recycles.  The others children just don't get Gabby.  Gator is a meat eater, afraid of toilets, and a little sensitive about being considered a monster.  This apparent odd couple meet up and form an unusual friendship.  Their acceptance of one another provides them with the ability to conquer fears and grow.  I laughed while I read it (and lately I needed a laugh) and I never once wondered what the author was trying to communicate.  It's a great book to have in a classroom collection. 

As an educator, I look at a book from the perspective of which students can I give a book to and why.  Burks' Gabby & Gator is essentially a middle grade graphic novel.  Yes, it is hardcover, and yes it has wonderful illustrations, and yes, adults can read it to preschoolers who will laugh and enjoy it.  However, as a picture book for preschoolers, it is technically a little long.  At 100 plus pages, it is about three times as long as a normal picture book (though about as many words if not less on a page than a normal picture book).  So parents will really need to know their child's attention span.  I could see this being difficult to use in a kinder class as a read aloud.

Where I do see it being most effective is with second graders on up.  Teachers could read it with a class as part of a discussion on accepting individual differences or talking about standing up to bullies.  And children within this age group (2nd to 5th) can read the book independently.  For reluctant readers, the limited amount of text will allow for them to read the book and have success and would be a good segue to more formal graphic novels or graphic novel/chapter book hybrids.

James reading from Gabby & Gator
If I haven't convinced you yet to check out Gabby & Gator, maybe exploring James Burks' webpage and getting a taste of his work will.  For more information about James Burks, check out his website