Friday, April 26, 2013

Hokey Pokey by Jerry Spinelli

Kids live in their own world and that is where Hokey Pokey is, so before you start reading study the map in the front of the book, which is basically a map of the things of childhood.  It is a good guide for two reasons - to understand the layout of Hokey Pokey and to understand the references in the beginning of the story.  The first time I tried reading it, I ignored the map and closed the book by page 15.  But then, I was given the book to read for a review other than here.  I couldn't say no, so I studied the map and started reading.  And a funny thing happened on the way the The End - I absolutely fell in love with this book.

If you pick up Hokey Pokey and find you can't get into it, all I can say is KEEP READING.

Hokey Pokey is the story of Jack, who wakes up one morning in Hokey Pokey and discovers his beloved bike Scramjet has been stolen - by a girl nemesis no less, named Jubilee.  So he climbs Gorilla Hill, the highest peak in Hokey Pokey, gives his famous Tarzan yell, calling on his Amigos Dusty and LaJo to help him find it.  But something else has happened that day in Hokey Pokey - something feels different.  Jack senses it and so does LaJo.  But what is it?

Not only that, but Jack can suddenly hear a train whistle in the distance that no one else can hear, which is really strange because no one has ever seen a train on the tracks that run through Hokey Pokey.  So, what's that all about?

Jerry Spinelli has always been a favorite author in this house and he has done it again.  He understands that childhood is not really a time in our lives, so much as it is a place.  Think about it!  When you recall being outside playing with your friends, do you really see it in terms of time or in terms of place?  For me, it is place.  For instance, I still remember the feel of concrete on my knees as I crawled around the ground playing Skelly and never thinking of the dirt and germs I was gathering.  That Skelly court was a definite place.

But, time happens within place, so Hokey Pokey is really a brilliant metaphor for childhood.  Jack has reached an age - as in coming of age.  His stay in Hokey Pokey is coming to a end and adolescence, that great unknown, is looming.  And Spinelli has captured that transitional moment perfectly as Jack wanders through his last day in Hokey Pokey - the temporary distancing between him and his friends (unitl they too, come of age), seeing Jubilee through different eyes, dealing with 'The Destroyer', it is all there but different now.

Hokey Pokey may be the place where kids live and adults don't, but it is also a place language is its most organic.  Names (not in the bullying sense) for kids like Newbies, Snotsippers, Sillynillies and Gappergummers denote age by distinguishing feature.  Places like Tantrums, Stuff, Cartoons denote place by activity.  Compound nouns and verbs like bestfriendship, longspitter, speedbiking, runamucking - all so simple, yet all so descriptive.

Spinelli got it right, all of it.  It is spot on genius in its lyrical simplicity.  Coming of age doesn't usually happen in one day, but by placing Jack's in one metaphorical day and place, we can watch it happen like those time lapse films of flowers blooming.  The inexplicable changes in attitude, the confusion, the constant going forward into the unknown, seeing the world through different eyes, it's all there and more, so much more.

A funny thing happened while I was reading Hokey Pokey.  An overwhelming feeling of nostalgia for my own Hokey Pokey days swept over as never before.  So I called up my old Amiga just to have a little chat.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was provided by the publisher.


  1. I have a copy of Hokey Pokey and you are reminding me to actually read it. Good reminder!

    1. how old is jack and jubilee in hokey pokey ? please answer !!!!!!!!!!!

    2. The book never says how old they are.

  2. what happened next?

  3. I love the ending! What a fantastic book!


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