Monday, October 15, 2012

Calvin Coconut, Trouble Magnet by Graham Salisbury

Title:  Calvin Coconut, Trouble Magnet
Author:  Graham Salisbury
Publisher:  Wendy Lamb Books
Year:  2009
Pages:  160
Genre:  Realistic Fiction
Themes:  Friendship, Family, Bullies
Age Range:  2nd-5th Grade

Calvin Coconut lives in Hawaii with his mother and sister.  His father, the famous Little Johnny Coconut, hit it big with his song "A Little Bit of La-la-la Love", and took for for Vegas.  Since then Calvin is supposed to be the man of the house, but trouble seems to follow him wherever he goes.  On his first day of fourth grade, he angers the sixth grade bully, Tito, and even his best friends Julio and Willy think he is going to get pounded.  His cousin, Stella, is coming from the mainland to stay with them, which means he has to move into the storage room in the garage, which comes fully equipped with spiders and other creepy crawlies.  And his new teacher, Mr. Purdy, calls his class "boot camp"  for a reason. Can Calvin manage to avoid all of the trouble that keeps coming his way?

The one thing I can say that Calvin Coconut, Trouble Magnet has going for it is the unusual setting, and the opportunity to learn some new vocabulary as a result of the island location.  Calvin and his friends introduce us to the culinary delights of "shave ice" and "cuttlefish" and "kim chee", and "dried shrimp".  We also learn the Hawaiian word for mainlanders, "haole".  Calvin is a likeable enough character, and the author did a good job of translating the cadences of Hawaiian English into print.  But unfortunately there is not much substance to go along with the novelty of a Hawaiian setting.  As I read I kept waiting for the point of the story to present itself clearly, and I'm still waiting.  Calvin has problems that kids can relate to, but without any clear resolution.  Calvin solves his bully problem by offering up his cousin Stella as a consolation prize to get Tito off his back-not exactly an honorable solution.  The fact that Stella herself is something of a problem for him is not addressed very well in the course of the book.  Calvin forgets to walk his little sister home from school, but there are no consequences as a result, not even from his sister, who could have easily blackmailed him into some kind of amusing situation.  Overall, I'd say that this book might be an ok addition to a classroom library, but there is just not enough there there to make it worth using in a teaching setting.

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