Carl Hiaasen's Hoot
Children's book review by Steve Barancik
Save the owls
Adult author Carl Hiaasen (novelist, journalist) shares his offbeat sensibilities as well as his frequent subject matter (Florida and the environment) with a Young Adult audience in the 2003 Newbery Honor book, Hoot.
12 year old Roy Eberhardt has been from school to school, in state after state. Now his parents have dragged him to Florida, just as he was getting to like Montana.
He's being bullied a bit - though it doesn't bother him that much. What has caught his attention is the mysterious barefoot kid he keeps seeing from the bus...the one who doesn't seem to have to go to school.
The barefoot kid turns out to be Mullet Fingers (I don't name 'em, I just report 'em!), the wild child, lone wolf stepbrother of Beatrice, a fellow middle school student of Roy's and a fearsome presence in her own right. To say Beatrice and Mullet Fingers are not well parented would be an understatement.
What's going on in the adult world in this small town is that a major pancake house chain is trying to move in. But the building site is beset with a steady stream of vandalism that has been preventing progress. We meet the comically inept grown-ups whose efforts to put a stop to it are less than successful.
The story has something of a mystery feel to it as Roy tries to figure out what Mullet Fingers is up to and why.
Turns out that there's a flock of endangered ground-burrowing owls that is going to be bulldozed over if Mother Paula's All-American Pancake House succeeds with their building plans. Mullet Fingers has devoted himself to preventing that from happening.
When Roy figures it all out, he puts his own skills to use in a heartfelt and successful quest to save the owls.
Hoot, by Carl Hiaasen
This grown-up had a couple problems with the book that may well be strengths with the intended YA audience.
I found Roy to be an under-emotional narrator. He's practically indifferent to the bullying he endures, and his stake in the owls is less than Mullet Fingers'. I also found the unanimous idealism among the middle school kids - once they hear about the owls - to be a little hard to swallow.
But, as I said, these are probably strengths with the younger set - an ultra-cool narrator and kids united. Hoot is indeed a much beloved book. Kids can revel in the incompetence of grown-ups and enjoy the fantasy of being the prime movers in saving a bunch of doomed birds.
Too, Hiaasen is a deservedly popular adult author, and it might be fun for kids to read a book by an author they see on Mom and Dad's shelves. Looking for a great YA book to encourage reading? Give a Hoot!
Webmaster's note: Hoot was made into a movie in 2006.
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