Fuse #8

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Review of the Day: Roxie and the Hooligans


Shhh! Don't make so much noise. I don't want you to scare it off. What I am holding in my hand, at this very moment, is something so rare and precious that I'm afraid to make any sudden movements for fear of startling it. What we are witnessing is the very rarely sighted Phyllis Reynolds Naylor stand alone children's book. It's not part of a series or the first in a great long line of "Roxie" books. No sir. This here's an only once-in-a-lifetime glimpsed... what's that? You want to point out that Ms. Naylor has produced AT LEAST twenty-four stand alone novels for kids in her lifetime? Oh fine. Be like that. I was trying to make a point about how many series titles Naylor has produced since she began writing (six series with forty-four books in total by my count). It's amazing she has time to eat, let alone come out with anything of quality. I guess that's the most striking thing about Ms. Naylor. Some authors who shall remain nameless (unless you e-mail me, and then I'll spill everything) write tons of books and their quality goes down. Ms. Naylor writes tons of books and if anything they get more and more original and enjoyable. "Roxie and the Hooligans" is just the latest example.

"Roxie Warbler was neither fat nor thin, short nor tall, pretty nor plain, smart nor stupid". Her ears, on the other hand, were extraordinary. Large and lovely, they unfortunately attract attention from the wrong sort of people. Hooligan-type people. For you see, at Roxie's school are four nasty bullies (or hooligans) that like nothing better than to tease poor Roxie whenever they get the chance. And as intolerable as such a situation might be, it's made all the worse when the hooligans and Roxie accidentally wind up on an abandoned island when an attempt to glue underwear to Roxie's head goes awry. Now our heroine is trapped with the four people she fears the most on an island where there are murderous cutthroats who are perfectly prepared to kill ALL the kids if they can get their hands on them. Roxie hasn't any food or any water, but she does have one thing. A cool head and lots of knowledge from the book, "Lord Thistlebottom's Book of Pitfalls and How To Survive Them". Everything is up to her.

There's a certain level of readership that gets ignored time and time again by publishers and authors alike. In my library system they're called Young Readers. They're the kids who have progressed to chapter books, but they still need simple words, pictures, and large fonts to help them through their reading. Books for this group exist, but they aren't always that ... um ... good. Lots of series books like "The Chronicles of Droon" or "A to Z Mysteries" fall under this definition. So you can imagine how happy I was to find "Roxie" not only a delightful read, but a rather thoughtful one as well. Characters begin as stereotypes (Roxie excluded) and then grow small souls for themselves through their sufferings. The book also has the amusing idea of having Roxie repeat advice taken from Lord Thistlebottom's book when she has the need. If I were to summarize this book, I might call it the practical application of all those how-to-survive-a-crocodile type books that adults seem so enamored of.

Now as a children's librarian I often get requests from concerned parents asking me to recommend books for their children that talk about dealing with bullies. This, obviously, would not be the first book to leap into anyone's head. Be that as it may, it's a great anti-bully statement. Naylor acknowledges right up front that for those kids that don't conform to the rigid sameness of their peers, they are bound to wind up bullied in some way at some time. The hooligans, however, are given their humanity when they constantly find themselves relying on their earful companion. Accompanied by amusing illustrations by artist Alexandra Boiger (of the recent smash hit picture book title, "While Mama Had a Small Little Chat) the book is pure enjoyment through and through. For any kid that likes adventure, cutthroats, and kids surviving on their own, this is a great read. And you know what? If Naylor wants to make this a series and add another chapter to Roxie's adventures, I don't think I'd mind one bit. Highly recommended.

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