BIG WHEEL

Big Wheel Wiggins is the undisputed leader of his gang—an affable and diverse clutch of boys and a few girls who acquired local notoriety with high-jinks like conducting a bowling tournament with plastic flamingos, toadstools, and elves on a vacationing family's lawn. Then slick Topper Smith juggles his way into Marietta and challenges Wheel's position. One by one, members of Wheel's gang defect to explore Topper's old house, swim in his pool, and raid his well-stocked refrigerator. The erosion of Wheel's power base is giving him a massive case of executive stress. When he follows his know-it-all grandfather's crack-down advice, he alienates the last loyal holdout, life-long best friend Tag. After one act of sweet revenge, Wheel is forced to revise his Big Wheel code of ethics: he has to make room for two leaders of the gang, stroke his stray troops, and apologize to Tag. A smart, funny story, with a rollicking pace, smart- alecky dialogue, and snappy similes (when Wheel meets his radio deejay idol, Wild Willie, his heart is ``taking off like a pigeon at a cat show''). Wheel's meteorologist father's disastrous foray into TV weather-forecasting makes an interesting backdrop. A surefire story from a popular author. (Fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1993

ISBN: 1-56282-583-6

Page Count: 154

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1993

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A YEAR DOWN YONDER

From the Grandma Dowdel series , Vol. 2

Set in 1937 during the so-called “Roosevelt recession,” tight times compel Mary Alice, a Chicago girl, to move in with her grandmother, who lives in a tiny Illinois town so behind the times that it doesn’t “even have a picture show.”

This winning sequel takes place several years after A Long Way From Chicago (1998) leaves off, once again introducing the reader to Mary Alice, now 15, and her Grandma Dowdel, an indomitable, idiosyncratic woman who despite her hard-as-nails exterior is able to see her granddaughter with “eyes in the back of her heart.” Peck’s slice-of-life novel doesn’t have much in the way of a sustained plot; it could almost be a series of short stories strung together, but the narrative never flags, and the book, populated with distinctive, soulful characters who run the gamut from crazy to conventional, holds the reader’s interest throughout. And the vignettes, some involving a persnickety Grandma acting nasty while accomplishing a kindness, others in which she deflates an overblown ego or deals with a petty rivalry, are original and wildly funny. The arena may be a small hick town, but the battle for domination over that tiny turf is fierce, and Grandma Dowdel is a canny player for whom losing isn’t an option. The first-person narration is infused with rich, colorful language—“She was skinnier than a toothpick with termites”—and Mary Alice’s shrewd, prickly observations: “Anybody who thinks small towns are friendlier than big cities lives in a big city.”

Year-round fun. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2000

ISBN: 978-0-8037-2518-8

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2000

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A WEEK IN THE WOODS

Playing on his customary theme that children have more on the ball than adults give them credit for, Clements (Big Al and Shrimpy, p. 951, etc.) pairs a smart, unhappy, rich kid and a small-town teacher too quick to judge on appearances. Knowing that he’ll only be finishing up the term at the local public school near his new country home before hieing off to an exclusive academy, Mark makes no special effort to fit in, just sitting in class and staring moodily out the window. This rubs veteran science teacher Bill Maxwell the wrong way, big time, so that even after Mark realizes that he’s being a snot and tries to make amends, all he gets from Mr. Maxwell is the cold shoulder. Matters come to a head during a long-anticipated class camping trip; after Maxwell catches Mark with a forbidden knife (a camp mate’s, as it turns out) and lowers the boom, Mark storms off into the woods. Unaware that Mark is a well-prepared, enthusiastic (if inexperienced) hiker, Maxwell follows carelessly, sure that the “slacker” will be waiting for rescue around the next bend—and breaks his ankle running down a slope. Reconciliation ensues once he hobbles painfully into Mark’s neatly organized camp, and the two make their way back together. This might have some appeal to fans of Gary Paulsen’s or Will Hobbs’s more catastrophic survival tales, but because Clements pauses to explain—at length—everyone’s history, motives, feelings, and mindset, it reads more like a scenario (albeit an empowering one, at least for children) than a story. Worthy—but just as Maxwell underestimates his new student, so too does Clement underestimate his readers’ ability to figure out for themselves what’s going on in each character’s life and head. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-689-82596-X

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2002

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