Book Review: Hokey Pokey, by Jerry Spinelli


Hokey Pokey, by Jerry Spinelli
Welcome to Hokey Pokey. A place and a time, when childhood is at its best: games to play, bikes to ride, experiences to be had. There are no adults in Hokey Pokey, just kids, and the laws governing Hokey Pokey are simple and finite. But when one of the biggest kids, Jack, has his beloved bike stolen—and by a girl, no less—his entire world, and the world of Hokey Pokey, turns to chaos. Without his bike, Jack feels like everything has started to go wrong. He feels different, not like himself, and he knows something is about to change. And even more troubling he alone hears a faint train whistle. But that’s impossible: every kid knows there no trains in Hokey Pokey, only tracks.

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. 

Reading level: Ages 10 and up
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (January 8, 2013)

Starred Review, School Library Journal, January 1, 2013:“This unforgettable coming-of-age story will resonate with tween readers and take its rightful place beside the author’s Maniac Magee and Louis Sachar’s Holes.”

Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 2012:“A masterful, bittersweet recognition of coming-of-age.” 

My Thoughts:
I can’t decide what to think about this one.  It is crazy and wacky and I absolutely loved that side of it.  On the other hand, it is extremely confusing.  I spent the first half of the book completely in the dark as to what was going on, and the second half was only slightly better.

I got tired of being confused and it was a challenge for me to push onward when I felt like I was lost the entire time.  Everything is eventually explained, but by that point, I had all but given up.

However, it is a beautiful coming of age story that I think most people can relate to.  I mean, didn’t you have that one weird birthday where every gift you got was wrong somehow?  You got a sweater and thought, “Sweaters are for old people.” Then you got a toy and thought, “I’m too old for toys.”  That is what Jack’s experience reminds me of.  He leaves the world of imagination and play behind to move onward to life as a teenager.

About the Author:

Growing up, Jerry Spinelli was really serious about baseball. He played for the Green Sox Little League team in his hometown of Norristown, Pennsylvania, and dreamed of one day playing for the major leagues, preferably as shortstop for the New York Yankees.
One night during high school, Spinelli watched the football team win an exciting game against one of the best teams in the country. While everyone else rode about town tooting horns in celebration, Spinelli went home and wrote “Goal to Go,” a poem about the game’s defining moment, a goal-line stand. His father submitted the poem to the Norristown Times-Herald and it was featured in the middle of the sports page a few days later. He then traded in his baseball bat for a pencil, because he knew that he wanted to become a writer.

After graduating from Gettysburg College with an English degree, Spinelli worked full time as a magazine editor. Every day on his lunch hour, he would close his office door and craft novels on yellow magazine copy paper. He wrote four adult novels in 12 years of lunchtime writing, but none of these were accepted for publication. When he submitted a fifth novel about a 13-year-old boy, adult publishers once again rejected his work, but children’s publishers embraced it. Spinelli feels that he accidentally became an author of children’s books.

Spinelli’s hilarious books entertain both children and young adults. Readers see his life in his autobiography Knots in My Yo-Yo String, as well as in his fiction. Crash came out of his desire to include the beloved Penn Relays of his home state of Pennsylvania in a book, while Maniac Magee is set in a fictional town based on his own hometown.

When asked if he does research for his writing, Spinelli says: “The answer is yes and no. No, in the sense that I seldom plow through books at the library to gather material. Yes, in the sense that the first 15 years of my life turned out to be one big research project. I thought I was simply growing up in Norristown, Pennsylvania; looking back now I can see that I was also gathering material that would one day find its way into my books.”

On inspiration, the author says: “Ideas come from ordinary, everyday life. And from imagination. And from feelings. And from memories. Memories of dust in my sneakers and humming whitewalls down a hill called Monkey.”

Spinelli lives with his wife and fellow writer, Eileen, in West Chester, Pennsylvania. While they write in separate rooms of the house, the couple edits and celebrates one another’s work. Their six children have given Jerry Spinelli a plethora of clever material for his writing.

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  • Reply
    Adriana (BooksOnHerMind)
    March 15, 2013 at 2:40 pm

    Oh my goodness you read Hokey Pokey. I'm going to take a minute to be supremely jealous of you. I love Jerry Spinelli and I really want to read this book. I don't know what to think after your review. It sounds good but not really… Hmm… will have to see for myself 😀

  • Reply
    T. Drecker
    March 15, 2013 at 7:41 pm

    Hmmm… if you found it confusing, I wonder what a kid would think. Thanks for pointing it out. I hadn't heard of it yet 🙂

    • Reply
      March 15, 2013 at 8:07 pm

      My thoughts exactly. I don't see how a kid would be able to make sense of what was going on.

    • Reply
      Adriana (BooksOnHerMind)
      March 18, 2013 at 3:59 pm

      Kids are all over the place though. I've read books that I've read as a kid that sounded so confusing to me in the present day.

  • Reply
    March 16, 2013 at 12:01 am

    I love the cover! I have read other books by Jerry Spinelli and I got to meet him this past fall. He is so nice! Overall this book has me curious. I definitely plan to read it! Thanks for sharing!


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