Reviews for Nikki & Deja

Booklist Reviews 2008 February #1
Few early chapter books feature African American characters, and English, a Coretta Scott King Honor Book author, addresses this dearth with a sweet, realistic friendship story. Next-door neighbors Nikki and Deja are as close as sisters, but the two third-graders have moments of sadness and frustration with each other, especially after Deja starts a drill club at school, and Nikki has trouble keeping up with the dance routines. A new girl, Antonia, adds further tension, but the friends finally work through their hurt feelings and make up. English writes with a basic vocabulary and repetitive, easy-to-grasp sentence rhythms well tuned to the abilities of early-elementary-school readers, and children will quickly connect with the distinctive characters and authentically drawn situations and emotions, especially the tumult of feeling at odds with a best friend. Freeman's full-page, black-and-white artwork adds to the book's appeal with cheerful drawings of the two friends and their everyday episodes. A strong start to what will hopefully become a series of titles about Nikki and Deja. Copyright 2008 Booklist Reviews.

Booklist Reviews 2013 July #1
Nikki and Deja feel adrift in their familiar classroom after their beloved teacher breaks her ankle and stays home for a few weeks. The first substitute, a kindly fellow, can't control the class. Though the second sub keeps everyone in line with drill sergeant-like discipline, he does little actual teaching. English sympathetically captures Deja and Nikki's uneasiness when their school days go off-kilter, and no solution is in sight. Distinctive black-and-white illustrations reflect the actions and the tone of this clearly written story. Another slice of elementary-school life in the Nikki and Deja chapter-book series, one of the few to feature African American characters. Copyright 2013 Booklist Reviews.

Booklist Reviews 2012 February #2
In the continuing adventures of Nikki and Deja, these two African American friends win the chance to attend the wedding of their beloved third-grade teacher. There are grumblings from classmates whose names weren't picked out of the box, but the girls' biggest problems are with each other. English manages to convey both the trials that best friends sometimes put each other through as well as how easy it can be to get the relationship back on track. A former teacher herself, English fondly depicts these tried-and-true dynamics. Freeman's black-and-white illustrations (not completed for review) should add further appeal. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

Horn Book Guide Reviews 2008 Spring
African American third-graders Nikki and Deja are best friends who do everything together until new-girl Antonia comes between them. The story's familiar theme is bolstered by some fresh details (e.g., Nikki stresses out over drill club try-outs because she realizes she "has no rhythm"). Digital black-and-white illustrations show the girls' personalities and emotions. Copyright 2008 Horn Book Guide Reviews.

Horn Book Guide Reviews 2012 Spring
Deja decides to run for student body president with a reluctant Nikki as her campaign manager. The story arc is familiar--the best friends come to odds in all the expected ways before reconciling--but the book's ending is realistic (and somewhat surprising). Occasional black-and-white illustrations reflect the friends' personalities.

Horn Book Guide Reviews 2010 Fall
In their third story, pals Nikki and Deja write a newsletter to share the happenings on their street and at their school. When their made-up stories upset their neighbors and classmates, though, they have to apologize. English's text is entertaining and accessible. Freeman's digital black-and-white illustrations express the girls' inquisitive and creative natures. Copyright 2010 Horn Book Guide Reviews.

Horn Book Guide Reviews 2014 Spring
Third graders Nikki and Deja are uneasy with the way their classmates misbehave for the substitute teacher. But when they get a new strict sub, classroom morale plummets as they wait for their adored teacher's return. The always-relatable duo's struggles ring true, and occasional full-page and spot black-and-white illustrations of classroom scenes break up the short, accessible chapters.

Horn Book Guide Reviews 2012 Fall
Wedding mania sweeps the class, but Nikki and Deja are chosen as the only two students to attend their teacher's nuptials. Meanwhile, when Deja's aunt loses her job, the girls have a falling out as Deja worries about money. In their fifth book, the girls' complicated friendship continues to ring true. Nicely shaded black-and-white illustrations help bring the story to life.

Kirkus Reviews 2007 December #1
Nikki and Deja are best friends, next-door neighbors and schoolmates. They do almost everything together, from watching cartoons and sitting on the porch, to going shopping, making cookies and playing at recess. But when a new neighbor moves in down the street, things may be about to change. Antonia has enviable possessions--a canopy bed and a trampoline--and is in their class at school. When the three play jump rope together, Antonia's too bossy, but then a misunderstanding occurs at the flea market and Nikki and Deja struggle over the formation of a drill team. It looks as though the friendship may be over, but in an elementary-school world of clubs, competition and jealousy, it's up to Nikki and Deja to sort things out. Accessible writing, authentic characters, an easy-to-identify-with plot and Freeman's appealing black-and-white illustrations come together smoothly in this straightforward friendship tale. English nicely fills an underdeveloped area--this is a first-chapter book featuring African-American girls, and race is presented as an attribute of the characters rather than as an issue. (Fiction. 7-10) Copyright Kirkus 2007 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

Kirkus Reviews 2009 December #2
Third graders Nikki and Deja have a lot to learn about journalism. Looking for a way to make a little extra money, learn about their neighbors and get an early start as news reporters, these best friends start a neighborhood newsletter. They publish their first edition with solid news: A man is locked out of his house while wearing a bathrobe, a boy breaks his arm while skateboarding and a neighbor wins a blue ribbon for her roses. Unfortunately, there is not enough news to keep the publication on schedule. Things end badly when the girls put together the second edition, crossing journalistic lines and reporting overheard gossip and supposition. English draws characters with complexity and honesty: Nikki is careful and thoughtful but unable to stand up to Deja; Deja's decisiveness does, at times, lack good judgment. The adults in the girls' lives are refreshingly open, creating an anchor for them as they move toward independence. A solid addition to a welcome series for new readers, especially for children who want to read realistic stories about kids of color. (Fiction. 7-10) Copyright Kirkus 2009 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Kirkus Reviews 2012 February #1
Third grade continues to be a series of ups and downs for best friends Nikki and Deja. Their beloved teacher, Ms. Shelby, is getting married. The excitement reaches a new high when she announces two last-minute guest cancellations and says she would like two students to attend. She draws names out of a hat, and Nikki and Deja are chosen "fair and square." The rest of the class is jealous but soon moves on to invent a classroom contest to see which team can create the best imaginary wedding. Meanwhile, Nikki and her mother revel in finding a dress and the perfect panini press, while Deja worries about Auntie Dee's new jobless status and fears what a homemade dress might look like. This entry in the series has a serious credibility problem: While wedding fever would certainly spread through a classroom, it's hard to imagine a teacher actually choosing just two students to attend her wedding. Though English gets at some of the sniping that occurs in school, that ugliness threatens a hostile takeover of her story. When the girls finally get back together, it is too quickly resolved. Readers of this series will long for some character development; it would be nice to see the girls grow more empathetic along the way. (Fiction. 7-10) Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Kirkus Reviews 2011 June #2

Best friends Nikki and Deja are back in a tale of school elections and friendship.

Confident Deja is excited when Ms. Shelby tells the class that third graders will be allowed to run for student-body president, imagining herself in the role and doing everything she can to make it happen. Nikki is worried about the silent treatment her parents are giving each other, but Deja can only see as far as the election and appoints the reluctant Nikki as her campaign manager. After she insults Nikki, Deja is on her own to make posters and write the speech that has to be delivered in front of the whole student body. Deja's self-absorption threatens to take over this slight story, making Deja less and less likable as the story progresses. It's hard to see why Nikki remains friends with bossy Deja. She forces Nikki to hide forbidden candy; she tattles to her teacher about every little thing; she only thinks of herself. When Deja flubs her poorly conceived speech, though, Nikki steps in to help with the last day of the campaign, pumping a little life into it. Freeman's occasional black-and-white illustrations capture the dramatic tension between the girls and Deja's terror as she faces the microphone.

While beginning chapter books with African-American characters are rare and usually welcome, this particular installment in a usually sunny series falls flat. (Fiction. 6-9)

Copyright Kirkus 2011 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2007 December #2

In her first chapter book, English (Francie ) perceptively explores the undercurrent of insecurity and rivalry that threaten two African-American girls' friendship. When Antonia moves into the neighborhood and tries to boss two best friends around, Deja elects to start a drill club and pointedly not invite the new girl. But when Nikki messes up at drill club tryouts, she anticipates rejection and hooks up with Antonia, who proposes an exclusionary club of their own. The plot is secondary to the authentically rendered backdrops of sidewalk games, the third-grade classroom and Saturday morning TV-watching. Better still are the author's careful tabs on the daily fluctuations in the girls' emotional lives: "She hadn't meant to say that.... And since she can't put the words back into her mouth, she's glad she's in front of her house because then she gets to stomp up her stairs and slam the door behind her." More probing than many chapter books, this title delivers the satisfaction of a full-length novel. Final art not seen by PW . Ages 6-10. (Dec.)

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School Library Journal Reviews 2008 June

Gr 1-4 --As in Hot Day on Abbott Avenue (Clarion, 2004), English explores the intricacies of childhood friendship, capturing the dialogue and experiences with near-perfect tone. Nikki is a budding writer, and Deja wants to be a decorator; the two third graders are best friends and neighbors. Unfortunately, when a new girl moves to their street, this friendship begins to unravel. Antonia isn't very friendly, so in retaliation, Nikki and Deja form an exclusive drill team club and vow to keep her out. When it comes to light that Nikki has no rhythm, the girls' insecurities come to a head, fueled by Antonia's manipulations. Eventually, Nikki and Deja realize how much they miss each other and make up. Nikki and Deja are still learning how to navigate complex relationships, alternating between codependence, jealousy, and stubbornness. And like most youngsters when faced with new emotional experiences, they don't always behave in the best manner possible. The story balances all this angst with humor: a scene in which the girls discover that their teacher actually--gasp!--shops at the same grocery store is priceless. Freeman's black-and-white illustrations depict a multicultural cast. Put this into readers' hands and they'll most likely see the ups and downs of their own friendships reflected.--Laura Lutz, Queens Borough Public Library, NY

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School Library Journal Reviews 2010 February

Gr 1-4--Nikki and Deja have a great idea: to start a newsletter about what's happening on Fulton Street and at Carver Elementary. Trouble comes, however, during a slow week, and the girls must figure out the difference between news and gossip if they want to be trusted as reliable reporters. English writes with wit, feeling, and a spot-on voice that acknowledges the realistic friendship and problems of the protagonists. Freeman's cartoon illustrations enhance the story. These strong African-American characters are refreshing.--Sarah O'Holla, Village Community School, New York City

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School Library Journal Reviews 2011 July

Gr 1-3--Deja desperately wants to be student body president of Carver Elementary. Ready to pull out all the stops, the third grader immediately enlists her friend Nikki as her campaign manager. Soon Deja is consumed with the idea of winning, even if that means browbeating classmates into choosing her or baking 140 cookies that say "Vote 4 Deja." It doesn't even occur to her that Nikki could use her friendship, as her mom and dad are fighting. Can Deja gain control of her competitive ways or will she be her own greatest obstacle in winning the election? Deja is a confident and smart character, but her inability to be a good friend is never resolved. The occasional full-page black-and-white illustrations add a nice touch, especially when Deja is delivering her speech to the class; this particular picture captures her first thread of uncertainty and self-doubt perfectly. Consider for purchase if the series circulates.--Elizabeth Swistock, Jefferson Madison Regional Library, Charlottesville, VA

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