Tween fiction is typically high-concept. Kids travel through time, run away from bad guys, escape natural disasters, and climb mountains. They are super-heroes, undercover spies, space cadet recruits, and globe-trotting investigators. Typical kids aren’t usually found in tween fiction. Nobody has a small adventure.
Nobody, except for Popeye and Elvis. In The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis, two boys are thrown into friendship when Elvis’ family’s camper gets stuck on a muddy road in small-town Fayette, South Carolina. Popeye is the local kid, and his faithful slobbering hound Boo is never far behind. The boys and Boo trek through the woods in search of a small adventure and find it: little boats made from Yoo-hoo boxes carry cryptic hand-written messages downstream. The search for the mysterious boat-builder occupies the days it takes for Popeye’s ne’er-do-well uncle and his friends to dig-out the camper and send Elvis and his family on their way.
Author Barbara O’Connor is in top form here, and she continues to be one of my favorite tween authors. The pacing is slow, and nobody is talking too fast or making too much noise. But O’Connor keeps you reading until you reach the last page. If this book were ice cream, it would be a peach milkshake with whipped cream on top: smooth, sweet, and satisfying. And like ice cream, it doesn’t last too long; just barely long enough. I know it's been a good book when I find myself reading the last page slowly, just to make sure I don't miss anything -- like making a slurpy sound with a straw when I reach the bottom of the milkshake cup. Everything is to be savored, and nothing is to be missed.
Language arts teachers will appreciate the author’s use of vocabulary words in the book. Popeye’s grandmother is intent on teaching Popeye a new vocabulary word every week. Those words are defined in the text, and Popeye purposely uses them throughout the story. Nice concept.
I look forward to reading all of O’Connor’s past and future novels. I think your students will, too. Buy several copies of The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis for your school library, and make sure you have one for your classroom library as well.