Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things
Random House, 2008 172 pgs
Poor Alvin Ho! He's the proverbial middle child, often overlooked and sandwiched between his older brother and younger sister. All kinds of things are terrifying to Alvin from the expected (scary movies, shots, the dark) to the unexpected (school, wasabi, historic houses). Alvin begins his second grades year with much anxiety, but hopes that this school year will be different. He wants to fit in better with the other boys and make a friend. Unfortunately, part of Alvin's anxiety is that he literally cannot utter a word while in school. This makes making friends difficult and turns his school day into torture. His loving family tries to help him and are consistently supportive, but even taking Alvin to a therapist doesn't help. Finally, after learning some valuable lessons about taking family member's personal property without permission, Alvin finds a way to break in with the boys. Once he finally gets into the gang, he realizes that its not all its cracked up to be and discovers that friends can be lurking in unexpected places.
The subject matter of this book (childhood anxiety) is such that it seems pretty intense from the outside. Written in Look's capable hands it is anything but. Look has a vivid understanding of what it is like to be a child who fears everything. She writes Alvin's character honestly, humorously, and realistically. He is a likable little boy and with the help of his understanding extended family we know he will be okay. All of the grown-ups are present, supportive and well developed. His siblings and classmates are also flawed but lovable. No super villains here, just the real situations that can make the life of a seven year old a scary place. Look paints a rich setting in Concord, Massachusetts in the early autumn and brings a lot of local history into both the life of Alvin and the readers. Alvin Ho is a great choice for kids just stepping out of chapter books. Its a little longer than conventional chapter books and has some challenging vocabulary, all while retaining large margins, big type, and generous pictures. The cartoon-like illustrations, by LeUyen Phan contribute to the plot, add humor to the situations, and make the book a more accessible and enjoyable read. I will be using this book this month for my third and fourth grade book group. This is one of my favorite choices for this age group because Alvin Ho is a "slam dunk" with both male and female readers. Alvin must make ethical decisions (and chooses poorly in some cases) giving us topics for discussion, and the book features a Chinese-American family, which offers some much needed diversity rarely seen in books for this age group. Kids will relate to Alvin and feel comforted about their own fears and struggles. The fun continues in a glossary of terms at the back of the book, that serves to define some words kids might not be familiar with, including Chinese words, and is laugh out loud funny. Four other books follow the first title in this series, so kids who enjoy the first adventure will have somewhere to go upon completion. A similarly hilarious series (although, unlike Alvin, features a fearless girl) by the same author begins with Ruby Lu: Brave and True and is also highly recommended.