Pennsylvania author Jerry Spinelli transports us to the endless summer days of childhood in his latest book, "Hokey Pokey" (Random House, $15.99, ages 8-11). This is a magical tale of what it is like to be a child in a world with friends, adventures and no adults, save for the Hokey Pokey Man, who brings them dessert for lunch every day in any flavor of their choice.
Readers are drawn into the story with a question. "What is Hokey Pokey?" Then an answer,
A square snowball treat
A circle dance"
Then a simple but profound moment when a golden bubble gently lands "upon the nose of sleeping Jack and spills a whispered word: it's; and then another: time."
Life is good, predictable and normal, until this particular day when Jack awakens and everything changes. His legendary bike, Scramjet is gone. Even more unbelievable (and completely unacceptable) is that it has been stolen by a girl named Jubilee.
Girls are to be avoided at all times. When Jack must interact with one it is only to exchange the most creative and insulting names he can conjure.
Jubilee and Jack have been at odds their entire lives in Hokey Pokey, and that is normal. Now, Jubilee has what is most important to him in the whole world.
Jack is one of the older kids. He is a leader, an idol among the kid-only clans such as the Snottsippers, Longspitters and Newbies.
Naturally, it is big news when his Scramjet, renamed Hazel, becomes the property of Jubilee, complete with a new paint job and feminine touches. This event affects everyone.
Mr. Spinelli paints a Wild West environment complete with glaring sunshine beating down on the Great Plains. Bikes act like herds of wild mustangs roaming free. Kids live, play and pretend all day.
Younger children in this story offer readers vignettes of various stages and characters of childhood. Jubilee protects and adores her younger brother, Albert. He is one of the little kids, and he is dependent on Jubilee for comfort and security as he navigates the day-to-day events of Hokey Pokey.
Lopez, a little girl who loves to ride high on the see-saw, looks up to Jack as a big brother. Hokey Pokey even has its own bully known as the Destroyer, who has his own set of issues and fears.
As always, Mr. Spinelli effortlessly pulls us into the world he creates. He is a child living in Hokey Pokey, experiencing the events and feeling the spectrum of childhood ups and downs.
And suddenly we are there, too, running and playing in the hot summer sunshine with the rest of the kids. Just as in "Maniac Magee," "Crash" or "Stargirl," Mr. Spinelli provides a clear vision of what it is to be a child.
The writer shares elements of his own childhood with his readers as though it happened yesterday. Jack's Amigos, LaJo and Dusty, are not only his sidekicks, but his best friends and most loyal supporters. They are determined to get Scramjet back at any cost, battling the certainty of the change that is coming. But even they know that this is bigger than a bike.
For Jack, his Amigos, the children of Hokey Pokey, and even Jubilee, this is a time when one change means everything is different. Jack feels the sadness of letting go of everything that is familiar and the trepidation of accepting growth and change.
Mr. Spinelli dedicated this book to his own Hokey Pokey of Norristown, Pa. As for Mr. Spinelli and, ultimately, Jack, this book gives adults an all too brief visit to our own summer afternoons when our bikes would take us anywhere our imaginations led. For younger readers, the story offers an opportunity to anticipate the excitement of upcoming adventures -- and change.
Debbie Priore is senior librarian in the children's department of the main branch of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Oakland.