Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Gollywhopper Games, by Jody Feldman

Title:  The Gollywhopper Games
Author:  Jody Feldman
Publisher:  Greenwillow Books
Year:  2009
Pages:  336
Genre:  Realistic Fiction
Themes:  Redemption, Competition, Fair Play
Age Range:  3rd-6th Grade

Summary: from Goodreads
Gil Goodson's future happiness depends on winning the Golly Toy & Game Company's ultimate competition. If Gil wins, his dad has promised that the family can move away from all the gossip, false friends, and bad press that have plagued them ever since The Incident. Inside the toy company's fantastic headquarters, Gil will have to master trivia, solve puzzles, and complete physical stunts—and he'll have to do it better than all of the other kids competing.
Oh, and did we mention that Gil's every step—and every mistake—will be broadcast on national television?
I will admit to spending the first quarter of this book sure that it was some kind of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory rip-off (or, for the less cynical, perhaps an homage), but luckily I kept with it long enough to realize that while there are undeniable similarities between The Gollywhopper Games and Roald Dahl's classic, The Gollywhopper Games can stand on hits own as a legit piece of children's literature.

The book starts much like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  A young boy (Gil/Charlie) from a poor family gets a golden opportunity (see what I did there?) to compete for a fabulous prize from a (toy/candy) factory. Both boys were trying to make their families lives better, but for Gil the reason was not just to raise them out of poverty.  Gil had a personal mission to redeem his family's honor and give his father a reason to hold his head high.  Because Gil's father worked for Gollywhopper Toy and Game Company, and he had been wrongly accused of stealing money from the company.  Even though he had been acquitted, the whole town still thought that his dad was a crook.  Gil's other reason for competing was more selfish-he desperately wanted to get the money to move to a new town where no one would know his family's history.

There is also a cast of rather stereotypical characters, though not in the obnoxious way that the characters in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory were stereotypical.  There was Lavinia, the brain, and Bianca, a slightly air-headed girl who just wanted to be famous.  There was Rocky, the bully, and a super rich kid who's father was trying to use his wealth to fix the games.  And unlike Dahl's story, which featured a tour of the factory with hilarious punishments for the bad, spoiled, naughty kids, once the kids get into the Gollywhopper Factory, they are competing for prizes by solving puzzles and completing stunts that force them to use all of their wits.  In fact, the puzzles were the part of the story I appreciated the most.  I always like it when children's media-whether print or visual-shows smart kids getting ahead by being smart.  I thought that the characters were very well-written and believable.  I could feel Gil's frustration when others were cheating, and his determination to win.

I think that kids will also like the fact that this book features kids who outsmart nasty adults, which I suppose is also a theme in Dahl's works.  Because in the end Gil is able to not just win the games, but to solve the mystery of who really took the money, and to help his father regain his place at Gollywhoppers.  This rather-lengthy-for-a-kid's-book novel is a fast and easy read, one that combines action with emotion in a way that I think will appeal to lots of kids.

Teacher Resources:
Kids' Wings Unit Plan
The Gollywhoppers Game Website

No comments:

Post a Comment