Hokey Pokey by Jerry Spinelli
Published by:Knopf Books for Young Readers
Release date: January 8, 2013
Ages: 10 and up
From the publisher:
Welcome to Hokey Pokey. A place and a time, when childhood is at its best: games to play, bikes to ride, experiences to be had. There are no adults in Hokey Pokey, just kids, and the laws governing Hokey Pokey are simple and finite. But when one of the biggest kids, Jack, has his beloved bike stolen—and by a girl, no less—his entire world, and the world of Hokey Pokey, turns to chaos. Without his bike, Jack feels like everything has started to go wrong. He feels different, not like himself, and he knows something is about to change. And even more troubling he alone hears a faint train whistle. But that’s impossible: every kid knows there no trains in Hokey Pokey, only tracks.
Okay, so it’s Jerry Spinelli. Jerry Spinelli, whom I’ve enjoyed since I read Maniac Magee many, many years ago. And more recently, I read Jake and Lily (2012), and found that no matter how old I am, I can still somehow relate to his coming-of-age characters.
So. Hokey Pokey. First impressions are everything, right? After the first couple pages, I felt as if I had landed in the middle of Toy Story. And I wasn’t sure that that was going to be a good thing. But I hadn’t been disappointed by Spinelli before, so I persevered. About 20 pages in, I was hooked. And that was the end of that. I read the book in just a few days, being drawn in deeper every time I had a few moments to read.
Hokey Pokey is a coming of age story, but in a way completely different than any I’ve encountered before. The story begins with Jack, the cool kid on the block, and his two amigos, LaJo and Dusty. Jack’s beloved bike, Scramjet, has been stolen. And not just by anybody, but by Jubilee, Jack’s arch-enemy and a girl. As the story unfolds, the reader follows Jack on his quest to retrieve his bike, but also begins a tour of the land of Hokey Pokey, a place where no adults abide and children spend their days doing what children do best. The landscape consists of all our best childhood memories. There’s Thousand Puddles, Tantrums (where children go to let off steam and emerge exhausted), Cartoons (a giant movie screen), Doll Farm, and Trucks. It is home to children of all ages, from Snotsippers to Sillynillies, to Big Kids.
But one can’t stay in Hokey Pokey forever, and on this morning when Jack wakes up, he knows almost immediately that something is different. It’s not just the missing bike, or hearing the train whistle in a land that has no train. He feels different– separated, both anxious and excited. As the day progresses, Jack begins to realize what is happening, and what is to come when night falls. Suddenly, it’s not about the bike anymore, but of making the best of his remaining time in Hokey Pokey, and of leaving a legacy for those who will remain behind.
Adolescence is an awkward time. Children cling to their childhood, but want the independence adulthood. This internal struggle is apparent in Jack. Over the course of 304 pages, the reader sees Jack begin to transform, to accept his “fate” and even anticipate what the next day will bring. But with this anticipation comes trepidation of the unknown. Young readers will be able to relate, even if it’s in a way that they are unable to vocalize. Adult readers will want to comfort Jack, even while remembering their own adolescent days with a mixture of both joy and sorrow.
Hokey Pokey is creative, poignant, and bittersweet. Yes, the first couple pages are a little confusing. It takes an adjustment to move oneself into the world of Hokey Pokey. But once there, you are swept away, and will find yourself moving quickly along, to the final sentence. A sentence which, of course, brings the reader back to the beginning.