All About Ella

Authored by Sally Nicholls
Illustrated by Hannah Coulson
Published by Barrington Stoke

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Ella is fed up. No one remembers which day of the week that she was born on, she has to be quiet whilst her brother Sam sleeps and never gets to choose what to watch on the telly. It is clear that no one cares about her, and she is not afraid to let Mum and Dad know how she feels! Sam has been poorly for a while and Mum reminds her she ought to be being good at a time like this. Ella retorts that she could not care less about Sam being poorly. But when his health takes a turn for the worst she has to consider the implications of what she has said.

Written from Ella’s first-person perspective, her voice offers a valuable opportunity for children to explore the impact of a narrator and how they can skew our reading experience. Nicholls makes it is clear from the offset that Ella has a limited understanding of her mother and father’s difficulties. From Mum’s dishevelled appearance at the school gates to grandma stepping in to take Ella to ballet, the strain within the family home goes unnoticed by the protagonist. She is far more concerned with her immediate world than what is happening beyond her own needs. This first-person perspective could offer a wealth of opportunities for developing comprehension skills. As a guided reading text for pupils in Year Five and Six, All About Ella would stretch readers as they try to infer beyond the protagonist’s tunnel vision and understand what is happening to the wider family.

This short but sweet novella shines a spotlight on serious illness from a sibling’s point of view. The text follows a chronological structure, with each chapter depicting a different day of the week. This snippet of Ella’s life comes to a close on the Sunday. The story itself concludes rather quickly and spans just over 40 pages. The number of pages is partially extended by Barrington Stoke’s dyslexia-friendly layout, which allows for more generous spacing to support readers. Despite the relatively short length, Nicholls packs a great deal of personal growth into the narrative. The child that we meet at the end of a text is different and more thoughtful than the child that we met on the Monday.

Some readers will be familiar with Ella and Sam from Nicholl’s well-received novel Ways To Live Forever, published in 2008. I am yet to read this but know that Sam’s story is explored in greater depth in this earlier text. It will surely complement All About Ella and offer further insight into her world. Despite the heavier subject matter, All About Ella was a warm, enjoyable snapshot of family life. Coulson’s sketchy childlike illustrations offer an interesting parallel to Ella’s simple, innocent language. When paired together, the language and illustrations prevent the story from being overbearing or difficult for children to digest. This was a thoughtful story which reminds us of the light and shade within everyday life.

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