One Year at Ellsmere

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
One Year at Ellsmere Book Poster Image
Absorbing graphic novel about friendship and fitting in.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The author documents her creative process and work flow in updating the illustrations for this book.

Positive Messages

Lots of positive messages about the value of friendship, like how friends see each other through tough times and help and support each other. Other positive messages include learning not to worry too much if you feel like you don't fit in, and about trying not to let what others say or think get you down.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Different body sizes, skin colors, and hair types depicted in both important characters and people in backgrounds. Encourages girls to study hard and get a well-rounded education by studying arts and sciences. Jun and Cassie model a strong friendship. Jun handles Emily's attempts to intimidate and put her down really well, until she handles it really poorly once. All negative behavior has consequences. There's some sadness when Jun talks about her father, who died when she was about 7, and feeling upset that she remembers less and less about him as time goes by.

Violence

A picture about the past shows a dead bird with blood trailing from it, killed by a hunter. Another series of pictures show a punch to the face, the victim holding her nose, and blood streaming from her nose. A picture shows someone being knocked down and choked. Another series shows a large, scary unicorn with demonic eyes attacking someone. There's a safe resolution. Some pictures show a dark, scary forest. A lot of the plot has to do with some "queen bee" behavior like threats and sabotage.

Sex
Language

Emily uses "queen bee" behavior including verbal aggression, threats, put-downs, and sarcasm to belittle Jun.

Consumerism

A game of Monopoly.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that  veteran author-illustrator Faith Erin HicksOne Year at Ellsmere is a graphic novel that updates an earlier version called The War at Ellsmere. It's the same story but has new or updated illustrations and is all in color. A couple of pictures show blood from a bird killed by a hunter and from a bloody nose. Other violence includes pictures of a punch in the face; a scary fantasy creature attacking; and a student knocking another down and choking her. There's some "queen bee" behavior from Emily who uses verbal aggression like threats, put-downs, and sarcasm to intimidate and belittle. There's lots of positive representations of different body sizes, skin colors, and hair types. Girls are encouraged to study hard and get a well-rounded education in arts and sciences. Strong messages about friendship and learning how to fit in. Jun's father died when she was about 7, and there's some sadness when she talks about not remembering him as well as she used to.

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What's the story?

ONE YEAR AT ELLSMERE is a graphic novel about Juniper (Jun), the first person to receive a scholarship to the prestigious Ellsmere Academy for Girls. All the other students there are from wealthy families who've been sending their girls there for generations. Fortunately Jun lucked out in the roommate department, and she and Cassie quickly become good friends. But mean-girl Emily has it out for Jun, sensing a competitor for top student and someone who's not going to be intimidated by her. As the school year goes on, Emily ramps all the way up to sabotaging an important essay Jun wrote. And as if that weren't enough to deal with, there are also the stories, and possibly even a sighting, of a mysterious creature who roams the woods just outside the school, and the two young men who went into the woods and never came out.

Is it any good?

Middle-schoolers, especially girls, will enjoy this rich update of a school story about friendship, academic competition, and a mysterious creature. The updated illustrations really pop, and now One Year at Ellsmere is all in color. There are lots of positive representations for girls especially, and good examples of strong friendship and how to handle verbal aggression. The story moves along well and keeps the pages turning throughout the school year. The ending brings in a fantasy element that some may feel is out of place, but overall it satisfies while leaving room for more stories from Ellsmere.

Fans of graphic novels and aspiring illustrators will also appreciate the Afterword in which author Faith Erin Hicks documents her creative process and work flow.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how One Year at Ellsmere shows lots of different skin tones and hair and body types. Why is it important to have diversity in books, movies, games, and other types of media?

  • What makes Jun a good role model? What are her character strengths and weaknesses? Did you like her?

  • Why are graphic novels so popular? What do we love about them? What are some of your favorites?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love graphic novels and middle school stories

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