Hokey Pokey

13642591by Jerry Spinelli

This new book by established author Jerry Spinelli has sparked quite a bit of conversation in the children’s lit. circle.  And at my Children’s Literature Circle (a monthly book club that I host for faculty at my school,) our teachers (and one student) had quite a bit to say about the book as well.  So, here’s a short synopsis of what we discussed last Friday (April 19th.)

We were lucky enough that an 8th grade boy, hungry and in need of some sustenance wandered in to the classroom where some yummy chicken fingers called to him.  We said to Z (his initial) that we’d love to give him this book to read and get some feedback, since one of the common sentiment was, “Who would read this book?  Whom is this book for?”  But Z surprised us by saying, “Oh, that book?  I read it.  I really liked it.”

So we fed Z, asked him to stay for the beginning of our discussion and share with us his reaction.  He told us that the book was easy to read and he really enjoyed it.  These are some of his own words. “It resonated with me.”  “How the author describes it gels with my own childhood.” “I was confused at first.  Thought it was purely fantastical world… until it became clear that it was a childhood… it felt tribal.” ” It feels like a new fantasy world.”  “It would have felt sadder if I had read this earlier.”  Or, as we agreed, for a younger reader, it might not speak to him/her at all!

After Z left, we had a short moment of collective reflective silence — hmm… so this book IS for someone, and at least for this one 8th grader, everything WORKS beautifully.  Z also told us that he read the book in one day — which we all agreed that is the way to go.  Not a book to read in piece-meal, putting down and picking up again.  But we also all agreed that it was NOT an easy book to get in to – not by a long shot.  Anyone staying with the book until the end appreciated it so much more than they had originally thought possible.

We thought that it is daring for Spinelli to create such a unique world and he did quite a great job maintaining it.  Not an easy task.  Some of us felt that toward the end, there’s a bit redundancy in reviewing all the areas of “childhood” (Hokey Pokey) and that tightening it up more would have been  emotionally stronger.  Someone in our group suggested that the book should have been a short story.

We thought that this book will speak most directly and effectively for those who have LEFT Hokey Pokey.  (So, early teens, teens, and adults.)  And it probably will only speak to those who actually lament or miss their childhood.

Is the Allegorical land too obvious for some readers?  It is, somewhat, for me and a couple of other adult readers.  But it seems to have worked quite well for the 8th grader and there is a sense of revelation and pride in being able to name what Hokey Pokey is!

I grappled with the view points somewhat — if this is supposed to be the internal landscape of Jack, why would we be able to see so clearly some of the other characters’ internal journeys?  Especially that of Jubilee’s?    Or perhaps this is NOT an internal landscape but a SHARED Childhood Experience of those who live through it together?  Some leave earlier than others and some want to leave while others want to hold them back.

I wish that the strong dividing line of “BOYS are this” and “GIRLS are that” is less clearly stated to allow for better enjoyment by me with a 21st century sentiment.

I also think that the comparison of Spinelli to Joyce (by plenty of people) is quite off base and that this is not an example of “stream of consciousness” style!

This was definitely a conversation propelling book!  I’d love to hear more opinions for young readers!

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