Monday, February 4, 2013

Pickle: The (Formerly) Anonymous Prank Club of Fountain Point Middle School by Kim Baker

Pranksters at my high school made life exciting by doing stuff like plugging a stick up the ketchup dispenser so when the victim, such as myself, pushed down on the pump, the stick went sailing out like a blow dart spraying the victim with ketchup. First time it happened to me, I had to go home and change pants. When the ketchup dispenser was out for a lunch meal, I had to watch out for the blow dart prankster. When toilet paper draped the ten oak trees that sit in my parents' front yard, I thought it was pretty. My dad who is an architect was not happy, especially when an ice storm raged the next night freezing the toilet paper to the branches for 5 months as winter settled in the frigid northern city of Minneapolis. The flowing streamers from the first night looked like used toilet paper by then and it was definitely NOT pretty. But when does a prankster go too far? At our school it was when some students thought spraying the locker room with several fire extinguishers would be hilarious. Most pranks are funny and annoying but it seems that when damage is done to property or another person gets hurt by the caper the laughter stops.

This is just one of the many themes that Ben Diaz and his secret group of pranksters, The League of Pickle Makers, learn as they spice up school life with their shenanigans. On paper, the school club makes pickles which they plan to enter in the Pioneer Fair Days, but their true motive is to covertly pull pranks against everyone at school. The tomfoolery begins when Ben finds free goods online in the Classifieds. He can't resist filling his school classroom full of a bunch of stinky, used bouncy balls that the owner of the local Pizzeria wants to get rid of. Kids at school think this is so funny and exciting that Ben decides to form a club thats antics include dry ice in the bathrooms, Saran Wrap over the bathroom sinks, and more.  The pickle club is having a hey-ho time until one of the members goes rogue causing damage to school property.

Students will love this book with its silly pranks, goofy characters, and friendship conflicts. Ben's best friend, Hector, just can't stand up to his grandma, the principal of their school. He's so afraid of her that when she accuses him of something he didn't do, he admits not only to the crime, but worse, he tells her Ben did it with him. When Hector wants to join the club, Ben questions his trustworthiness along with other members, and Hector is refused admittance, causing hurt in their friendship.

Ben's heritage is interweaved nicely throughout the story, particularly when the club looks into the diet of Mexican pioneers when they first came to their city. It is terrific fun seeing how the author creatively ties pickles into the plot with the students and adult characters. And I had to laugh at the reference to "The Joy of Pickling." My parents generation did a ton of canning, with pickles being one of the mainstays, and my mom loved her "Joy of Cooking" book. I even got two of those cookbooks as wedding presents it is so beloved by the older folks. Kids won't get that joke but who doesn't love a mixture of adult and kid humor in a book?

While the pacing clips along through the middle and end of the book, the start has too many subject pronouns that begin with "I" effecting sentence cadence. The last paragraph in the first chapter has nine sentences starting with "I." This is a little nitpicky on my part and most readers are not going to notice it enjoying a very likable main character whose pranks are fairly harmless. The goofy supporting characters held my interest and after a couple of chapters the sentences started to vary in rhythm and more themes were introduced adding nice tension to the development of the story.

The plot becomes more complex as the story progresses and Ben excludes his best friend, Hector, who wonders if he wants to remain friends with him. The students stand up for their First Amendment rights and the adults act authoritarian about the whole incident. I wanted this more hashed out but most readers are not going to care. The first person point of view can be tricky because it limits the view of the protagonist and sometimes I wanted more information from Ben about the supporting characters. Angry Sienna is struggling with her parents divorce and while I like that she fesses up and takes responsibility for her actions, the situation is not resolved. Also, I expected Hector to stand up to his grandma after he stood up for Ben. I wanted Hector to confront her about her bullishness and address her interference with his friendships and interrogating him to the point where he was confessing to crimes he didn't commit. But he doesn't. I thought the story would have been stronger if Hector's grandma showed some willingness to change in how she treated Hector and that she would try to be a better parent and administrator. In the end, she remains more one-dimensional and less interesting to me as the antagonist.

If you are like my dad who saw absolutely no humor in toilet paper hanging from the trees, then I recommend passing on this book. As a kid, I loved books where anarchy prevailed, the adults were idiots, the characters were funny, and exciting adventures oozed from the pages. This book delivers all that and more. I also loved to act out books with my best friend. Good thing this book wasn't around! We'd be dreaming up all sorts of mischief!

A great addition to your library.

Reading level: 5.7
3 out of 5 stars

No comments:

Post a Comment