Review of the Day: Donuthead
Lest you believe that I've grown lazy in my old age by doing yet another review that came out long ago (September 29, 2005 on Amazon to be exact), I will explain. It seems that Mother Reader, with her penchant for gauntlet throwing, has thrown down an entirely new kind of gauntlet. She noticed that this week the Child_Lit blogs have been doing a lot of sports-related titles. She has therefore challenged such pretty souls as myself and others to post reviews, poems, etc. of our favorite sportsy children's books. I do not like sports. I find them sweaty and loud and unless they are table tennis they do not interest me in the least. However, I happened to remember that the best children's book ever conceived of by a mortal brain, Donuthead happens to contain quite a lot of basebally stuff. On those grounds, I bring one of my favorite books to your attention. It deserves no less.
Is there any sight more thrilling to the human heart than when one witnesses the start of a writer who will someday be regarded as one of the greats? Sue Stauffacher, as of this review, hasn't that many children's books to her name. This in no way reflects badly on Sue. She's at the beginning of her authorial career and is already wowing audiences left and right with her witty/heartfelt tales. My mother, a bookstore employee in Southwest Michigan (much like the author), turned me onto one of Ms. Stauffacher's first tales by simply quoting the first lines in the book. "My name, if you must know, is Franklin Delano Donuthead. Try saying that in a room full of fifth graders if you think names will never hurt you". And we're off!
Yes, true enough our hero has the unfortunate moniker, Donuthead. It's a family name. Apparently when one of his ancestors emigrated to America, the otherwise respectable title Donotscked was changed to Donuthead. This might be seen as unfortunate, but if Franklin's ancestor was anything like his latest descendent then he probably deserved the change. You see, Franklin likes his life to be orderly to the point of madness. His number one goal in life is to not die. So far, he's done rather well. He makes sure that his mother buys only organic foods (berating her sharply if jellybeans somehow make an appearance on the grocery list). He engages in no sports and he regularly calls the chief statistician for the National Safety Department in Washington (a Ms. Gloria Nelots) for advice. Then, one day, Franklin's matter-of-fact existence runs smack dab into Sarah Kervick. Sarah's dirty (quote Donuthead, "I'd never seen a finer host for parasites... In less than thirty seconds, she would be sitting close enough for her fleas to change their address), gets in trouble all the time, and can't read. But Sarah, unlike Franklin, is privy to a host of fabulous hopes and dreams. And without meaning to, without WANTING to, Franklin finds that if the statistic that states that people who have friends live longer is true, he may soon be set for life.
Stauffacher walks a fine line throughout this book. It might be very easy to interpret the character of Donuthead as someone suffering from OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). The fact that the kid has to sing the happy birthday song three times when he washes his hands, and must start over again if he looses track of the song, is evidence enough. But this isn't a story about OCD. Franklin's supposed to be funny, so we must assume that his peculiar tendencies are self-inflicted and not the result of some kind of disorder. This is not, suffice it to say, "As Good As It Gets" for kids. And Donuthead is funny. He talks like a forty-year-old British accountant and treats his mother more like a child than like a parent. He's also funny to listen to. Some of the best parts of this book occur when Franklin calls up Gloria for advice that goes above and beyond National Safety. As a disembodied voice, Gloria represents an adult that Franklin can respect. She also offers him some of the sanest advice in the book, and knows exactly how to talk to a guy who's own mother can't quite figure him out.
The book's rather remarkable in that its hero is a child of a sperm donor. His mom is a single-parent, something that we still don't see much of in children's literature even today. Sometimes, it's a little difficult to understand what Stauffacher's trying to say about non-violence and not liking sports. Franklin finds himself thrown into conflicts and unpleasant sports because other people want him to. I think we're supposed to want him to too, but I had a little more respect for poor Donuthead than that. If the boy doesn't want to learn how to hit a baseball don't make him for crying out loud!
Probably one of the things I liked best about this book was the ending. Not only is the last line in the book the kind of thing that'll put shivers down your spine, but it suggests that a sequel would not be out of place. I would, personally, adore a "Donuthead 2". We'll see if Stauffacher's up for it. If you need a book that reads aloud really really well to large groups of children, this book has it all. A pitiable yet likable protagonist. Really funny dialogue and scenes. And an ending that gives you, if nothing else, hope. A real find and a severely underrated book.