Reviewed October 11, 2010.
Frances Foster Books (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), New York, 2009. 150 pages.
Popeye is bored. It's summer, and it's been raining for over a week. Popeye lives with his grandmother Velma and his Uncle Dooley. Uncle Dooley's the one whose bad aim with a BB gun resulted in Popeye's one eye always squinted shut and his nickname of Popeye.
But then, just when Popeye is convinced his life is horribly boring and will never change, the rain stops, and Popeye finds a big surprise when he goes around the curve in the road. There's a motor home stuck in the mud.
The lopsided motor home sparkled like tinfoil in the sun. Glittery gold lightning bolts zigzagged along its sides. On the front, under the enormous windshield, was a painting of a coyote, howling up at a round yellow moon.
Bumper stickers and decals were stuck every which way all over it. Above the door. Along the roof.
American flags and smiley faces and peace symbols bordered the curtain-covered windows.
Just looking at that big silver motor home was pure entertainment.
But things get even better when Popeye discovered that a whole passel of scruffy-looking kids live in the motor home. And the biggest one, Elvis, is about his age.
Thus begins a memorable summer for Popeye. They go wandering along the creek and find a small adventure: perfect little boats made from Yoo-Hoo cartons with cryptic messages inside.
Can Popeye and Elvis find out who is making the boats before the motor home gets out of the mud and Elvis' family has to move on? Can Popeye overcome his qualms and go exploring further down the creek despite his grandmother's directives? Should Popeye overcome his qualms? And if Velma finds out, how can he divert her wrath?
I've recently discovered that short chapter books with large print are perfect for reading at Northern Virginia traffic lights, and that's how I read this one, until I got close to the end and couldn't stop.
A lot of the charm of this book is the well-done characterization. We feel truly transported to the world of a lonely kid with nothing to do in the summertime. Each character is distinctive, from Velma, who recites the kings and queens of England in order each morning to keep from cracking up, to Elvis with his constant attempts to be tougher than his little brothers and sisters.
Velma also learns a vocabulary word each day and shares them with Popeye. He finds many reasons to use the new words in the course of their small adventure.
The small adventure in this book is one that Popeye will remember all his life, and one the reader will feel privileged to share.
I recently had an interview for a Librarian position as Youth Services Manager at a Regional Library. I blew the question on reader's advisory, which is what I'm best at! They asked what book I would recommend to a 4th grade boy who loves sports and has read all the Matt Christopher books, and my mind went completely blank. This book is not about sports, but I think it would be a fantastic choice for a boy who likes action, and he doesn't have to be an advanced reader, though more advanced readers will enjoy the book, too.
For anybody who's been bored and would like to have a Small Adventure.