Friday, May 1, 2009

Review of Alvin Ho: Allergic to Camping, Hiking, and Other Natural Disasters by Lenore Look

Look, Lenore. Alvin Ho: Allergic to Camping, Hiking, and Other Natural Disasters. Ill. by LeUyen Pham. Random House, June 2009.

After a misadventure during which Alvin is strapped (voluntarily, mind you) into a homemade straitjacket and taped into a box, Alvin’s dad decides that he and Alvin need some special time alone. Unfortunately for the cowardly Alvin, his dad figures that a weekend spent camping and hiking would be just the ticket. Alvin, his confident big brother Calvin, and his peppy little Sister Anibelly have lots of fun preparing for this big event – and when the time comes to leave, Anibelly manages to cajole her way into the car.

The camping trip itself is almost a disaster thanks to Alvin’s dad having forgot much of the food as well as a can opener, but luckily a fellow camper and his odd son save the day with some Italian sandwiches. Despite a few setbacks (a lost Batman Ring, a case of poison oak after Alvin’s dad uses the wrong leaf as toilet paper), the camping trip ends up being a big success so far as Alvin and Anibelly are concerned.

For the first few pages, during which Alvin over-explains himself and all his friends and family, I was perturbed (as with the first book) by Alvin’s too-knowing, too-old tone. As soon as the story proper began, however, Alvin’s breathless, nerdy, endearing narration won me over. We see his extremely vivid family (all except his mom, who barely figures in this story) through his nervous yet admiring eyes; Alvin’s dad and uncle, although less than perfect, are depicted with an especially loving and admiring touch.

The only jarring element is the entrapment of Alvin’s dad in a dangle trap made by Alvin and his new camping friend. This completely unbelievable and slapstick situation (the illustration depicts Alvin’s dad dangling by one leg high above the ground) is out of place in this tale, being more the sort of misadventure that would befall Homer Simpson. Poison oak on Alvin’s dad’s bottom – sure. Gravity-defying cartoon gags – no thanks. Still, that’s only a small quibble in an otherwise sweet and funny tale, which is perfectly complemented by Pham's sassy, piquant illustrations.

Highly recommended for readers in grades 2 to 4, or as a read-aloud to slightly younger kids.

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