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Master storyteller Jerry Spinelli has written a dizzingly inventive fable of growing up and letting go, of leaving childhood and its imagination play behind for the more dazzling adventures of adolescence, and of learning to accept not only the sunny part of day, but the unwelcome arrival of night, as well.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2012-11-12
- Reviewer: Staff
Spinelli (Jake and Lily) creates a surreal landscape reminiscent of J.M. Barrie’s Never Land in this poignant celebration of childhood exuberance. Don’t bother looking for adults in Hokey Pokey, where boys and girls dine on flavored ice and spend their days watching cartoons, playing cowboy games, and using their bicycles as trusty steeds. Jack’s bike, Scramjet, is the most coveted of all, and one day it’s stolen by his archenemy, Jubilee. This marks the first of a series of unsettling events that give Jack, a boy on the brink of adolescence, the eerie impression that “things have shifted.” It isn’t just that his tattoo, the mark of all residents, is fading; something deep inside him is pulling him away from familiar landmarks, friends, enemies, and routines. Spinelli’s story will set imaginations spinning and keep readers guessing about Jack’s fate and what Hokey Pokey is all about (so to speak). The ending is both inevitable and a risk (it invokes one of the more clichéd tropes in literature and film), but Spinelli’s dizzying portrait of life in Hokey Pokey will keep readers rapt. Ages 10–up. (Jan.)
Growing up and getting all turned around
Hokey Pokey is the perfect kids’ world. There are many places to play, continuous cartoons on a big screen, wild herds of bicycles, even places for tantrums and snuggling. Only kids live here, from the time they first shed their diapers until they become Big Kids. But what happens then?
Newbery Award-winning author Jerry Spinelli explores this question with his usual grace and creativity in Hokey Pokey. His main character Jack wakes up one morning to find that his great stallion bike Scramjet has been stolen and nothing is as he expects. When he discovers that his tattoo, the one every newbie gets upon entering Hokey Pokey, is starting to fade, he knows for sure that his life is about to change forever.
It’s hard to talk about how wonderful this book is without giving away its secrets. Adults will know early on what Jack is experiencing, and tweens might guess but not fully understand. Pre-teens will identify with Jack—and his friends the Amigos and his nemesis Jubilee—in a way that will startle them. The ending is a satisfying “click” of the last puzzle piece. If readers are put off by the childish-seeming premise at the beginning, encourage them to keep going. Hokey Pokey is not just a place, but also a journey they will recognize.
This is the kind of remarkable, unique and perfect coming-of-age story that makes the reader think, “Of course! Why didn’t I think of that?” And all of a sudden, there is no better way to describe childhood—or its end.