Judith Schachner’s wonderful imagination infuses the story of Skippyjon Class Action. A great sense of play also permeates the book’s artwork. Both make for compelling reasons why you should purchase Skippyjon Class Action, except that there’s an accusation of racism against the whole series. Is the latter true? And, if it is, does that discount the other merits?
Skippyjon is dying to go to school, even if school is just for dogs. And nothing, not even being sent to his room by his mother, is going to keep him from making his wish come true. His mother tells him that he’s already one smart Siamese cat and orders Skippyjon to look into the mirror if he doesn’t believe her words. Skippyjon climbs up his sister’s kitty-condo ladder for a peek, but the result is the opposite of what his mom hoped. Suddenly, Skippyjon is a masked Chihuahua, fully attired with a cape, red plaid shirt, and backpack…. and he’s boarding the school bus where he encounters bullies and other scary moments. Such is the power of imagination!
From what I have read of Schachner’s biography, as a child imagination was her escape. When the world would overwhelm her with burdens, Schachner survived by creating happily-ever-after stories in her head and on paper. I have to believe that, despite the constant availability of passive entertainment (such as television and video games) available to young people today, imagination still has a place in our world. It can help a person escape a world of angst, misery, and dreariness. Moreover, even for the happiest of us, Imagination can also allow us help us find solutions to problems, and perhaps to become the future visionaries of the world–or at least of our homes or workplaces. And Skippyjon is the perfect role model of imagination.
Complementing the plot is the artwork. Done in acrylics and pen and ink, the vibrantly-colored illustrations are as hilarious as the story. They also provide clues to just HOW Skippyjon gets his wild ideas. Moreover, the buoyant and cartoon-style illustrations perfectly match the exuberant text. Speaking of which, I enjoyed how fonts were reduced, expanded, darkened, or changed to add emphasis to the text.
As I said in my introduction, a creative plot and energetic design are selling points for Skippyjon Class Action. The accusation of racism, however, is a strike against it. I have to admit that a cursory glance inside Skippyjon Class Action made my stomach tighten. There is an obvious stereotype of Spanish bandits and an over simplification of Spanish words. Once I started reading Skippyjon Class Action, however, I forgot all about my reservations. Most of the artwork is simply of cats or of dogs, playing as kids might. The cats ride bikes, read books, and take naps. The dogs doodle, play sports, read books, and make noise. As for the over simplification of Spanish words, the funny thing is that it actually encouraged me to seek out the real Spanish words and therefore to gain respect and knowledge for a language that is not my own.
Of course, as an English-speaking Canadian, I do not feel that I have the right to decide whether Skippyjon Class Action is racist. For that reason I turned to other reviewers. To my surprise, the complaints of racism seemed to come mostly from others like me who are outside of the culture. Those within Spanish-speaking cultures often instead applauded the humor of the series. They noted that their children actually identified with the Spanglish and even observed that real Spanish words are being used within the proper context. So, I think each individual will have to make their own judgment call.
My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.
How would you rate this book?
Below are some reviews which, especially if you take time to read the comments, might help you with that decision of whether to purchase Skippyjon Class Action.
You might also listen to a reading of the tale posted on YouTube: