Leon and the Spitting Image
by Allen Kurzweil
Recommended Age: 9+
Fourth grade at the Classical School shows every sign of being hard on Leon, who lives with his mother in the wacky hotel where she works. Lacking somewhat in “fine motor skills” as they call it in teacher-language (in other words, a klutz), Leon is worried about meeting the school’s standard of “nimble fingers, nimble minds.” That’s before he gets a fourth-grade teacher who is absolutely gaga about needlework, and who runs her classroom like a toy-animal sweatshop.
Plagued by suspicions that Mrs. Hagmeyer is selling their “animiles,” fears of being held back for another year of fourth grade, and the attentions of a snotty bully named Lumpkin, Leon finally pours all of his heart – and a bit of teacher spit – into a stuffed-toy version of his teacher. To his surprise, and the delight of his two best friends, Leon then discovers that the toy Hagmeyer has a magical power over the real Hagmeyer!
Leon’s school is a bit weird, but in a fun way. I think fourth-graders (and even some older kids) will get a kick out of the school’s year-long Medieval kick. Harry Potter fans will dig Leon’s two friends, who are as close to an American clone of Ron and Hermione as you could wish for. And people who just like having a good time with a book will be delighted with this story’s blend of modern family life, medieval history, scientifically tested magic, intrigue, outrageous comedy, playground politics, and gross-out fun. Plus, the ending may give you a very satisfying, evil giggle.
UPDATE: On my bookshelf (also known as my "Get-Around-To-It List") is a copy of another book by Kurzweil titled The Grand Complication. I intend to read it and review it as soon as I can. But...it's a big shelf. Don't hold your breath.