I thought while reading it that this book was reminiscent of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl or last year’s Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Stewart. It turns out that there’s a reason for that deja vu feeling. In the acknowledgments, Ms. Feldman thanks “the student who returned Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to the school library on day when I was volunteering. He asked the librarian for another story like it, but neither she nor his teacher could find a title to satisfy him. It was at that moment that I decided to write a book for that ten-year-old boy.”
So The Gollywhopper Games was born. Gil Goodson, a good son indeed, has made it his ambition to restore his family’s fortunes and vindicate his dad’s reputation by winning the Golly Toy and Game Company’s Gollywhopper Games, a huge publicity stunt in which several thousand kids compete for the grand prize: a college scholarship, a cash prize of several thousand dollars, a set of all the toys and games ever made by Golly Toy and Game Company, and other unnamed prizes. Gil wants to win because his father was fired by the company over a year before for allegedly embezzling money from the company. Gil’s father is, of course, innocent.
Ms Feldman doesn’t quite have Dahl’s almost macabre and earthy sense of humor, but she does have a great story, intriguing puzzles, and caricatured characters that still seem somehow real and approachable. And if the puzzles are not as multi-layered and tricky as those in Mysterious Benedict Society, the kids are more normal, not geniuses or super-heroes, but rather just regular kids. That ten-year-old boy Ms. Feldman was writing for would be able to picture himself participating in the Gollywhopper Games and maybe even winning.
The Gollywhopper Games is Jody Feldman’s first book for children. May she write many more. My eleven year old Karate Kid loved The Gollywhopper Games. I daresay the kid in your life will, too.
The Gollywhopper Games has already (on the first day) been nominated for a Cybil Award in the Middle Grade Fiction category. Nominate your favorite children’s and YA books of 2008 in nine categories at the Cybils blog.