9.19.2011

Daphne's Diary of Daily Disasters, written and illustrated by Marissa Moss, RL 3


Marissa Moss is creator of the original illustrated diar,y Amelia's Notebook. This series first hit the shelves in 1995. Moss's Max Disaster series debuted in 2009 is now she is back with Daphne's Diary of Daily Disasters. The first two books in the series (which have cool fuzzy covers and different colored pages in each book) look just like composition books with the name/schedule page at the start of each book, always filed in by Daphne in a funny way. Daphne also tapes a "favorites" list to the front of the diary that tells the reader her favorite color is pink, she lives in Oakland, is nine years old and has a best friend named Kaylee. She also likes pizza, but not pepperoni, origami and collecting cute Japanese erasers. At the end of each diary, Daphne tapes a different weekly cafeteria menu with her personal comments. The books in the Daphne's Diary of Daily Disasters series are shorter than Amelia's Notebooks and, with the main character being younger than Amelia, are geared toward a younger reader. However, Moss's eye for detail and ability to tap into the mind of a creative kid continues to abound and each book is overflowing with personality, in print and in illustrations, including very funny disaster doodles at the end of each diary.


In the first book, The Name Game, Daphne tells us that this pink paged journal could easily have been called Daphne's Diary of Daily Delights or Daphne's Diary of Days Worth Remembering but an unfortunate encounter with dog poop on the first day of school tips the scales. Unfortunately, Daphne's day doesn't improve when her new teacher accidentally calls her "Daffy" instead of Daphne during role call. Of course the name sticks and her classmates call her Daffy for the rest of the day. Daphne has a moment of relief when she and her best friend Kaylee come up with nicknames (and, of course drawings) of their classmates. However, after school is not much better. Daphne has an orthodontist's appointment with assistant who has "thick sausage fingers" that can barely fit into her mouth and hair that "smells like the kind of air freshener you hang in a car." Then, Daphne is forced to attend the soccer practice of her five year old identical twin brothers, Donald and David. David is only distinguishable from Donald by  his omnipresent "booger bubble" that is a result of allergies. Daphne entertains herself by drawing pictures of the soccer moms as animals and making rebuses out for her name. The one bright spot is the appearance of the ice cream man who sells interesting flavors like Pistachio-Bacon, Salt and Pepper and Beet Chocolate Chip. Daphne has curious taste buds and she is never disappointed by her choice. 


In her review of the first two Daphne books for New York Times Book Review, noted kid's book blogger and teacher Monica Edinger reminds us that emerging readers who are hitting their stride turn their attention from "the stops and starts of reading . . . to the text itself. For many children at this stage, the familiar rules: they take particular pleasure in reading about someone in a school with routines and structures not unlike their own and enjoy meeting, in a series, their beloved characters again and again and again. Unconventionally designed books appeal as well - say an ersatz journal filled with just the sort of notes and sketches the young reader could imagine making herself." As a longtime bookseller, I can attest to the longtime popularity of the two major book series that dominate the shelves for emerging - roughly second grade level - readers (Junie B Jones, Magic Treehouse) as well as the enduring popularity of the unconventional which, until recently, was a spot held solely by Dav Pilkey's Captain Underpants but now shares the shelf with Nick Bruel's Bad Kitty Series. Add to that the number of new readers who pick up the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series and it makes me wonder why it has taken someone so long to step into this space tailor made for a diary series with a girl at the center? Whatever the reason, I am SO pleased that Marissa Moss has created another diary series with a funny, creative, smart girl as the main character and made it just right for kids who want something besides the standards. On top of that, Moss, as always, is talented and creative enough to write characters who face the challenges of school and home admirably. And, while Moss's characters may make mistakes and missteps, they always find a way (with the help of friends, family and parents) to make it over the bumps and end with a smile, or, in the case of Daphne, a laugh.


The second book in the Daphne's Diary of Daily Disasters series is called The Vampire Dare. Vampire fever has swept the school and, when a costume day is announced ("even though Halloween is loooooong past,"as Daphne tells us) Daphne decides to be the coolest Vampire in the school. Kaylee, who is great at thinking up creative costumes, thinks this craze is ridiculous and refuses to dress as a vampire but won't tell Daphne what she is going to dress up as. When Daphne's costume doesn't feel quite cool enough she asks Kaylee for help. Instead of being cool, she is laughed at and says she has sunk to the bottom of the social scale in fourth grade, which is accompanied by a great illustration. Surprisingly, kindergarteners Donald and David not only understand Daphne's anguish but come up wit a great plan to divert attention from her latest disaster.



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