Review: Hokey Pokey by Jerry Spinelli

hokey pokey

Hokey Pokey by Jerry Spinelli

No adults live in Hokey Pokey, just kids.  They fall asleep right where they leave off playing and then jump up again to start playing the next day.  There are plenty of places to play: the Doll Farm, Thousand Puddles, Snuggle Stop, and Trucks.  Jack is one of the biggest kids at Hokey Pokey. He rides a legendary bike, Scramjet, captured from the herds of wild bicycles that roam the plains.  But when Jack wakes up one day, Scramjet has been taken and by a girl!  As Jubilee rides Scramjet around Hokey Pokey, everyone soon realizes that something is changing.  Jubilee paints the bike yellow but as she tries to get under Jack’s skin, Jack realizes that he himself is changing.  It must have something to do with hearing a train whistle no one else can hear.  But trains never come to Hokey Pokey despite the train tracks.

I was captured by this book the moment I read the first page.  I knew that I was in for a treat from Spinelli that is unlike anything he’s every written before.  This is a wonderfully wild and fanciful book that will remind readers of Peter Pan, yet it is brightly modern and not afraid to be dark too.  Spinelli uses a new language in Hokey Pokey, one that is easily understood but that also marks that we are somewhere new.  Take this description of children at play in Hokey Pokey, “…kids big and little everywhere streaking, leaping, chasing, shrieking, warring, hopscotching, footballing, hide-and-seeking, jumproping, hokeypoking, razzing, dazzing, runamucking, chuckleducking…”  The language he uses has a wonderful rhythm to it that is evident throughout the book.

The setting of Hokey Pokey is such a large part of this book.  Some places remain rather mysterious while others are completely explained in action in the story.  When readers are given a glimpse of some of the other wonders of Hokey Pokey, they can immediately relate to what it is because all of it is about childhood and play.  As Jack moves towards adolescence in the story, the book changes too.  It becomes more filled with questions, more angst pervades it.  This is a story of leaving childhood and all of its bright, candy-colored play behind and heading into the unknown.

Gloriously fun to read, this book was impossible for me not to love.  Spinelli writes with a lovely playfulness and yet beneath it all is truth.  A truly outstanding read for middle graders.  Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Knopf Books for Young Readers.