The name’s Payne. EJ Payne. (review)
Life in small-town Spooner, Wisconsin is just too B-O-R-I-N-G for ten-year-old Emma Jean (EJ for short) Payne. While she waits to grow up and start her “real” adventures, she livens up her world with an active – and occasionally troublesome – imagination. Whether she’s driving a race car(t) and putting store displays at risk, or “accidentally” cutting her brother’s hair after her (first) successful salon visit, EJ’s lively antics had our family laughing out loud.
We met EJ in Diary of a Real Payne Book 1: True Story from Barbour Publishing. Thinking we could certainly use some fun, relaxing entertainment – as life has been on the stressful side lately – we decided to make it a family read-aloud. EJ’s story is aimed at 8-12-year-olds, but I have to admit, the teens and I were just as amused.
At 192 pages, True Story is just right for middle readers – not too long and not too short – and the best part? Each of the fifteen chapters starts with a “handwritten” diary entry straight from EJ herself, decorated with her doodles. While the entire story is told from her viewpoint, these diary pages give just a tad more insight into her personality – and motivations – plus, they’re incredibly visually appealing, which makes them a fantastic draw into the chapter following. (There’s actually sixteen diary sections – a final one closes the book.)
One of our favorite parts of the story was chapter about the Payne-fully Spectacular Circus. EJ and her friends are participating in a school food drive. In the most innovative food-drive tactic I’ve ever encountered, they devise a plan to perform a miniature circus at each of the fifteen homes in their neighborhood. Each of the kids – and the dog – have their own part to play. At the end of each performance, the kids then ask “if you liked our circus, would you please donate food to help us fill our wagon for the school food drive?”
Needless to say, the experience is a rousing success, having filled their wagon not once, but four times over. It surprised us to find such an awesome suggestion for a unique approach to a food drive that could easily be replicated by most elementary-aged kids, hidden deep inside a fiction book. We promptly decided that EJ isn’t the only one with quite the active imagination – author Annie Tipton has a fair share herself.
EJ and her family are Christians, but I’d have to say, this isn’t a typical portrayal of Christian characters. They’re not shallow, cardboard, perfect people by any means… instead, they and their community are just like the people you probably know – and sometimes put up with – in your everyday lives. In the very first chapter, EJ’s mom encounters a familiar ‘type’ that we all know – and try to avoid! The lifestyle and intentions Christians should aim for are highlighted and discussed – often in the context of EJ’s own behavior – but occasionally as EJ comments on the actions of those she encounters. If you have kids like mine – who will recognize – and sometimes call others to account for – inappropriate behavior, these bits are a great opener for discussing both good and bad ways that challenges like this can be handled.
Miss Emma Jean Payne and her family come alive on the page, and could easily be people that we know. It’s always a good feeling to find an enchanting new series that you can recommend to both your less – and more – conservative friends, and with the abundant energy that EJ brings to the table, I could see this series having a nice, long run… and hope it does.
Diary of a Real Payne: True Story is $5.99 for a kid-friendly paperback book. Look for second tale of EJ Payne’s travails in book 2, Church Camp Chaos, available March 2014!