No one is sure about the new kid. She is quiet with curly red hair. But that’s not the weird part. There’s something distinctly canine in her shadow. She doesn’t wear shoes. She might even have fleas.
When he’s paired with the new kid for a project, one boy doesn’t know what to expect. But as they work together he realizes that even though she’s a little different, some things like caring parents and afterschool snacks, remain the same in The New Kid Has Fleas (2021) by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by Eda Kaban.
Dyckman’s text is brief and to the point as our non-new kid narrator expresses concerns about the new kid. Kaban’s digitally painted, cartoon style illustrations tease out the subtext of the story as the new kid is seen with a distinctly wolf-like shadow among other oddities in class. Our narrator and the new kid are presented as white (or at least light skinned) with varied skintones among the rest of the class.
When mean girl Molly starts a rumor that the new kid has fleas, our narrator is very worried about working together on a project–perhaps fairly when he finds out the new kid has literally been raised by wolves. But despite their (big) differences the new kid’s parents are doting and conscientious. Things like after school snacks are different (roasted squirrel anyone) but still good.
Molly’s rumor backfires when she’s the one who ends up out of school with lice. Whether she has learned her lesson or refuses to see the error of her ways is left to readers’ imaginations and not addressed in the story. While our narrator isn’t sure about a lot of other things at the end of the story he is sure that Kiki is no longer the new kid–she’s just a new friend.
The New Kid Has Fleas has a lot of interplay between what’s shown in the pictures and what is being said in the text which makes this a good one to read through a couple of times. This text vs. subtext dynamic will make it fun for one-on-one readings or with smaller groups–Kaban’s detailed illustrations may not translate as well to a larger setting if the images are not clearly visible to all readers.
Kids literally raised by wolves are always a favorite in the picture book scene and this one is a fun addition to that niche genre. The New Kids Has Fleas is also ideal for anyone looking for stories about making friends, embracing differences, or going to school.
*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*