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Kitchen Table Reviews: Julia Gillian and the Quest for Joy

Little lies, trumpets, and mean lunch monitors are the bumps in the road Julia Gillian faces on her quest for joy.

By Mir Kamin | January 15 , 2009
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<i>Julia Gillian and the Quest for Joy</i> by Alison McGhee
Julia Gillian and the Quest for Joy by Alison McGhee

Julia Gillian thought that fifth grade would be the greatest year of her life—she’s finally taking trumpet lessons with Mr. Mixler, alongside her very best friend, Bonwit. But trumpet turns out to be a lot different than she imagined, plus Bonwit doesn’t want to hang out with her anymore. Then the kindly lunch monitor is replaced by a carrot-chomping drill sergeant the kids all secretly refer to as the Dumpling Man. Will Julia Gillian figure out how to find her joy again?

Me: I thought this book was going to be really long when we started it; it’s kind of big and thick. But it turned out to be normal-length, it just has kind of wide spacing and a lot of pictures.

Son: Yeah, it was a good length. A good story without being too long.

Me: Did you like that there were drawings?

Daughter: I really like that a lot. Sometimes you can’t picture something in your head, really, and then having a drawing of it is kind of cool. Like, I take yoga so I knew what she meant about Enzo [her neighbor] “pretzeling,” but for someone who doesn’t, that picture of her doing a pose is good.

Son: I always like pictures. I liked the pictures of her dog, Bigfoot, and his pet bat! Those were my favorite.

Me: So what else did you like about this book? I thought it was very realistic the way a little lie kind of kept growing and growing and Julia Gillian felt like it was out of her control. I think lying is often like that.

Son: Yeah, it was like once she started she couldn’t stop.

Daughter: Why are you looking at me? Yes, fine, it was realistic. Stop looking at me.

Me: Favorite parts?

Son: The trumpet. Once it all got worked out.

Daughter: I liked when they figured out why the Dumpling Man was so mean, and kind of helped him to be nicer.

Me: I liked it when everyone told the truth, and it was still okay. Anything you didn’t like?

Son: I felt bad for her when everything seemed to be going wrong.

Daughter: I had a hard time believing some of what happened. It’s probably fine for younger kids, though.

We don’t want to wreck it for you, but I don’t want you to worry, either. So I’ll just say that Julia Gillian does find the joy, eventually.

Pros: A meaty yet amusing late-elementary story with added visual interest via the plentiful drawings. Friendship, compassion and honesty are the central themes. Real emotions handled with due respect.

Cons: All of the characters have weird names. The major lies in the story require hearty suspension of disbelief to buy that no one figured out the truth sooner (or that no one confessed sooner). The Dumpling Man makes baby carrots seem ominous.

Jullian Gillian and the Quest for Joy sparked a lively discussion about how lies sometimes snowball and get out of control, and it gets three thumbs up at our kitchen table.

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