There's something weird about Lena by Sigi Cohen

cover image

Illus. by James Foley. Walker Books, 2020. ISBN: 9781760651503.
(Age: 4+) Highly recommended. With intricate digital illustrations to pour over, kids will laugh uproariously as the story unfolds, leading the audience to think about what Lena actually is. Her strange behaviour, playing pranks on other kids at school, ranges from the innocuous putting gum on someones' hair to scaring someone half to death, putting worms down someone's back to letting loose a bag of snakes in the classroom. Each prank causes distress to those against whom it is perpetrated, and they decide it is high time they did something about Lena. Several of her classmates dress in spooky costume and go to Lena's house, but their moans and wails attract the attention of a giant hyena from inside the house. It chases them to a convenience store where they attempt to hide and are surprised when Lena suddenly appears. By now readers will have made a link between the rhyming words Lena and hyena and laugh out loud as the story comes to a conclusion.
Told in rhyming stanzas, kids will get a second layer of fun in predicting the rhyming word in each couplet, while the illustrations aptly support the fun of the tale, and evoke another level of interest and involvement. Kids will watch out for hints of Halloween, and love the endpapers with their differing views of Lena changing from a young girl in the first instance to a hyena in a girl's dress at the end. I love the scattering of bones, the headstones, the recognisable school rooms and excursions and the use of shadows to create feelings of unease.
I loved the array of plants in the school grounds, the posters on the classroom walls, the looks on the kids' faces. The detail is engrossing and adds to the fun of reading this enticing book.
A fitting second book from the Perth based team which created My dead bunny (2015). A book trailer is available.
Themes: Halloween, Horror, School, Pranks.
Fran Knight