Pickle: The (Formerly) Anonymous Prank Club of Fountain Point Middle School
By Kim Baker
Illustrated by Tim Probert
Roaring Brook Press (a division of Macmillan)
On shelves now
When I was in college I took a course in journalism to fulfill an English credit. I had no real desire to report the news in any way, shape, or form so when the time came to write an article for the paper I had to find something that would be in my wheelhouse. Ultimately I decided to write a piece on the history of pranks at my alma mater. It was a fun piece to write and instilled in me not a love of reporting but rather a love of pranking and all it entails. A good prank, a true prank, does no harm aside from a minor inconvenience for the poor schmuck who has to clean it up. It does not destroy school property, causing only joy for those innocents who witness it. And pranks, the really good ones, are almost impossible to think up. Now it’s hard enough to think up a prank for a liberal arts college in eastern Indiana. Imagine how much more difficult it is to think up a whole roster of pranks for a fictional elementary school. That is the task Kim Baker gave herself and the end result is a book that I simply cannot keep on my library shelves. Kids eat this book up with a spoon.
What would you do if you found out your favorite pizza joint was getting rid of all the balls in their ball pit for free? If you’re Ben Diaz, the answer is simple. You make several trips with the balls to your elementary school, dump the lot in your classroom window, and then sit back and enjoy the show. It’s an auspicious beginning for an up-and-coming prankster, and once Ben gets a taste of the havoc (and admiration) his act garners, there’s no stopping him. Next thing you know he’s started a prank club with school funds. Okay… technically the school thinks that he’s started a pickle club, but that shouldn’t be a problem, right? Trouble is, once you’ve started something as silly as a prank club, it’s hard to know when you’ve crossed a line and gone a little too far.
There’s been a lot of talk in the press and the general public about the fact that when it comes to Latino characters in children’s books you may as well be asking for the moon. They exist, but are so few and far between when compared to other ethnicities that one has a hard time figuring out who precisely is to blame. Pickle, I am pleased to report, stars a Hispanic kid who is featured on the cover front and center, no hiding his race or getting all namby pamby on who he is. And let me tell you now that the only thing rarer than a children’s book starring a Latino boy is finding a children’s book starring a Latino boy that’s hilarious and fun. The kind of book a kid would pick up willingly on their own in the first place. It’s like a little diamond on your bookshelf. A rara avis.
Now the key to any realistic school story, no matter how wacky, is likable characters. Not everyone in this book is someone you’d like to hang out with (personally I wouldn’t cry a tear if Bean took a long walk off a short pier) but for the most part you’re fond of these kids. Ben himself is a pretty swell guy. I don’t think anyone’s going to accuse Baker of failing to write a believable boy voice. Best of all, he’s a can do kind of kid. He takes charge. His solution to the pickle problem is well nigh short of inspired, and a nice example of a protagonist using their special skills to problem solve. And though the true antagonist of the book is the principal, it’s clear that his best friend Hector is a likable but lowly worm that serves as the emotional antagonist to our hero. You can’t help but like the fact that Hector is such a stoolie/squealer that he will not only confess crimes he and Ben have committed but crimes they NOT committed as well. There is no better way to get a reader on your side than to tap into their sense of injustice and unfairness. It is a pity that the only girls in the group are the only people incapable of really good pranks. Or, rather, one is incapable of coming up with a good prank and the other is perfectly good but goes rogue with it.
Baker distinguishes nicely between pranks that merely annoy and pranks that upset and destroy. Undoubtedly there will be adults out there that worry that by reading this book kids are going to immediately go out and start putting soap in their own school’s fountains/drinking fountains/what have you. Aside from the fact that most of the pranks in this book would be difficult to pull off (unless your kids have access to abandoned ball pits, I think you’re pretty safe) the book distinguishes nicely between those pranks that do good and those that do harm. I’m sure there are adults who believe that there is no “good” prank in the world. Those are the folks who should probably steer clear of this one.
Pranking requires a certain set of requisite skills. You need to be smart enough to figure out what the pranks should be and how to make them work. You need to have the guts to pull them off, regardless of the consequences. And you need to know when you’ve gone two far. Include only the first two requirements and leave off the third and you’ve got yourself one heckuva fun book like Pickle. Celebrating the kind of anarchy only pranking can truly inspire, this is one of those books for kids that are truly FOR kids. Gatekeepers need not apply. Show one to a kiddo and watch the fun begin.
On shelves now.
Source: Galley sent from author for review.
Like This? Then Try:
- Double Dog Dare by Lisa Graff
- M3: Sir John Hargrave’s Mischief Maker’s Manual by John Hargrave
- The Bad Apple (The Merits of Mischief #1) by T.R. Burns
- The Fourth Stall by Chris Rylander
Other Blog Reviews:
- The faux pickle related website that “Ben” created is pretty fun. Hard not to love a site that promotes popsicles made out of pickle juice. Mmm mmm!
- Read an excerpt of the first chapter here.
One hot and piping book trailer, just ready for you!