One of the most controversial questions you can ask about characters of a book is, “Why is your character X?” (Fill in the blank: gay, black, Muslim, etc.). But it is an important question. Why does you character have to be X? OR: Why do they have brown hair or green eyes? Why are they tall or short? Why are they male, female, or non-binary? Why are they an alien, a dog, a robot or a farting penguin? What does that piece of information do to move your story along? And in Jo Jo Makoons: The Use-to-Be Best Friend that question would be, “Why is the narrator/main character of Native descent?”
I would answer because Dawn Quigley wants to show kids out there who she is, who the people who surround Jo Jo are and just wants a fun character. The best part of Quigley’s character is, she could be anyone or anything (even a purple people eater) and she would be relatable, fun, and goofy. Jo Jo is “every kid” who happens to be of the Ojibwe people. And at the same time, you are learning about a people whom you might not be familiar with. I know I was not. Therefore, I was entertained and educated all at once.
This interesting story about a young girl and her unique look at the world has us exploring a culture we might not know, learn a few words of the Ojibwe language, and at the same time deal with relatable issues (getting shots, bullies/mean girls, new classmates, issues with best friends, grandparents, kid humor) that we all deal with (and I am with Mimi, Jo Jo’s cat, as I really do not like getting shots). And I love the answer to the math question: if you have four bananas and five people how many people do not get a banana? (The answer is everyone gets a banana and it comes from a very logical place in Jo Jo’s mind).
As an adult there were a few pacing/flowing of the story bumps for me (sometimes I felt that I was in the middle of a concept, or a step was missed), but overall kids ages 6 to 10 will like. While I did not see if this is the case, I do wonder if Jo Jo is autistic as her outlook on life is a bit literal, and she has issues understanding social cues and concepts outside of her circle of experience. Of course, this could be chalked up to the fact she is a 1st grader and kids that age are still developing in that area.
Tara Auibert has a few fun, simple illustrations throughout the story to illustrate what is happening to our plucky character. I am curious to see what other situations Jo Jo can get herself into in coming books.