A Friend Like Zilla.
Grades 4 - 6 / Ages 9 - 11.
By the end of the day I felt like I'd known Zilla forever. Her having a grown-up body didn't really matter. She dressed like me in shorts, T-shirts and stuff, and she liked to play. She never once talked silly teenage talk. She was just a regular kid. Better, actually, 'cause she knew so many neat things.This is the author's first chapter book for children. She has previously written five picture books. A Friend Like Zilla is about Nobby, short for Zenobia, a young girl who is holidaying with her parents at an isolated cottage near the ocean. She befriends Zilla a seventeen-year-old girl who is learning disabled. The subject of learning disability is portrayed in an interesting manner as Nobby realizes the value of differences; she sees that Zilla has much to offer in the way of information about nature and the surroundings even though she has difficulty with reading.
But sometimes she didn't get what I said. Like a joke or a big word or something. Yet she knew really fun stuff. Like the best place and time for clam digging. Where the bank swallows lived. Even the safest path down the cliff to the beach. The funny thing was she didn't know how cool it was that she knew all that. I mean, she didn't often come up with ideas about what to do. But I had lots, and Mrs. Rowan suggested things I didn't know about.
So we had a great time over the next few days. I was always at the farm, or Zilla was at the cottage. We spent hours with the animals. There were the cutest baby calves with huge, soft eyes and little fluffy chicks. But no pigs. It was too bad. I'd wanted to play with baby pigs ever since I read Charlotte's Web. It's my favourite book right now. Zilla'd never read it so she didn't care."
When Nobby's grandmother, aunt and uncle arrive, the relationship between the girls alters because Uncle Chad has trouble accepting Zilla. The plot is predictable in that Uncle Chad gets into difficulty and it is the girls who rescue him, but the friendship that develops between the girls is well-written. Nobby learns a great deal about life and people and, although Uncle Chad is one-dimensional, overall characterization is realistic.
The vocabulary is suitable for the ages intended for the novel. I liked the parallel of the differences between the girls and the differences between the sea gulls that the girls feed every day. The story is told in first person through the eyes of Nobby which is very suitable for the plot. The only negative aspect of the writing is that, at times, the prevalence of sentence fragments causes a break in the flow of ideas. Both the subject itself and its treatment in this book, makes it a good addition to school and public libraries as well as personal libraries.
Deborah Mervold is a teacher-librarian in a grade 6 to 12 school, and a Grade 12 English teacher at Shellbrook Composite High School.
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Copyright © 1996 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
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