Hokey Pokey by Jerry Spinelli

I don’t do negative reviews. I subscribe to the John Updike school of thought on reviewing. However, I am going to write about a book that I didn’t really like. I am going to write about it because the author is a big deal and I like his other books. Besides, my little review isn’t going to hurt his superstar status. He has won a Newbery and trumped it with a Newbery Honor. I liked his other books so he gets a pass for Hokey Pokey.

Hokey Pokey is a western-styled amusement park of a place where kids ride the range on wild bicycles and where adults don’t exist (except the Hokey Pokey Man who doles out treats). Kids play, watch cartoons and generally do whatever they want. But one day our protagonist, Jack, wakes to find that his bicycle has been stolen by a (gasp) girl. During the search for his beloved bike, Jack begins to notice changes that lead toward his leaving Hokey Pokey. He will learn that it is okay to grow up and leave childish things behind.

 Spinelli has once again formed a well-written tale. It is visually descriptive, filled with symbolism, invented language and recollections of Peter Pan. However, I have some issues. Hokey Pokey is not only needlessly abstract; it is didactic. It is way too metaphorical for his intended audience (not us adults, folks). It has a nostalgic feel to OUR childhoods, but I don’t think it represents most of the 2013 children’s desires (would it have been that hard to throw in an X-Box?). In the end, I think Hokey Pokey will be recommended by adults who like children’s literature, but I can only guess which kids will pick it up unprovoked. My guess for our middle school library? Dust gatherer.

Genre: Speculative Fiction/Fantasy (but like a modern fable)
Age: 10 and up
Pages: 304
Themes: Coming-of-age, friendship, adversity, facing life's challenges and changes
Character Development: Good
Plot Engagement: Abstract and fragmented for average 10-13 year old children
Originality: Very Unique, save for Peter Pan
Believability: Suspension of disbelief difficult, kept being pulled out of story
Thank You to Random House for my advanced copy.
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Date: 01/08/2013
ISBN 13: 978-0375831980

Jerry Spinelli has been many things in his life. He doesn't care if you call him a writer or a grandpa (he has 21 grandchildren!). You can learn more about him on his website.

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