Thursday, March 10, 2011

Review: Alvin Ho: Allergic to Birthday Parties, Science Projects, and Other Man-made Catastrophes by Lenore Look


Alvin Ho: Allergic to Birthday Parties, Science Projects, and Other Man-made Catastrophes written by Lenore Look, and illustrated by LeUyen Pham is the third book about Alvin Ho, a second-grader who is "allergic" to just about everything. The first two installments saw Alvin and his PDK (personal disaster kit) taking on such terrors as piano lessons, the class bully, a camping trip, and getting trapped in a dishwasher box. This time around, he's plagued by a field trip where Louisa May Alcott clones won't stop following him, and worse, an invitation to a girl's birthday party!

I love these books. For one thing, I'm so glad to see a loveable chapter book character coming from a Chinese-American background. I absolutely love all the details of Chinese culture that are infused into these books. I also think Alvin is a really realistic example of a second grader. Sometimes, Alvin wants to impress the other boys, and he'll make mistakes or do the wrong thing, knowing it's wrong, but other times, he just wants to hold his dad's hand, or curl up next to his mom. And Lenore Look doesn't shy away from any of those feelings. Wherever a second grade boy's interests and emotions might go, Look follows them there.

For me, as an adult, the "afraid of everything" gimmick is starting to wear off. I still thought this book was funny, but some of the scenes were a little over the top, such as Alvin's class switching clothes before school pictures, and Alvin ending up in a dress. But chapter book series are somewhat gimmicky by nature, and it's the repetition of those familiar things that makes them so appealing to kids, and especially to reluctant readers. And while not every kid is likely to be afraid of everything Alvin fears, each of his fears is being experienced by a second-grader somewhere. And I think that's what makes these books so popular, at least in my library. Kids like to see Alvin triumph over his fears, because it gives them confidence to conquer their own.

If you're only going to read one Alvin Ho book, I suggest the first one, Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things, because I think it is the best one, but if you get hooked, also look for Alvin Ho: Allergic to Camping, Hiking, and Other Natural Disasters, as well as Lenore Look's other chapter book series, featuring eight-year-old Ruby Lu. (There are three books so far: Ruby Lu, Brave and True, Ruby Lu, Empress of Everything, and newly published last month, Ruby Lu, Star of the Show.)

I borrowed Alvin Ho: Allergic to Birthday Parties, Science Projects, and Other Man-made Catastrophes from my local public library.


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