Is he gonna get to keep the toy factory? I'll bet he's gonna win the whole toy factory. The old owner's probably got some secret hidden in his will or a code written in the toy packaging or something. Yep. Kid’s getting the toy factory.
Those were the thoughts, or some variation thereof, going through my mind as I read Jody Feldman’s The Gollywhopper Games. The similarities to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory are numerous, and after reading Jody Feldman’s acknowledgements, it’s easy to see why. A student asked for a book like Roald Dahl’s classic one day when she was volunteering in the school library, and neither she nor the teacher could find one to his satisfaction. The Gollywhopper Games was born.
I was wrong. Nobody wins the Golly Toy and Game Company. And, different from Charlie, the children know they are involved in a competition. There are 25,000 chances to win. That’s 500 instant winner tickets in Golly products, 20,000 randomly selected winners, and the first 4,500 kids in line at University Stadium. Gil Goodson’s plan is wait it out in line.
Once inside, players are eliminated through stadium-wide multiple choice questions, then cut to ten finalists through a lengthy math question involving Golly toy products and company history, a nursery rhyme, and board games. Gil makes the cut.
Day two begins with the ten finalists split into two teams to compete against each other. When Gil grabs the immunity idol, he’s safe from that night’s vote, but the alliance he’s formed with…nah, just seeing if you’re paying attention. But there are two teams of five. One team is eliminated, leaving five individuals competing to win.
The contest goes throughout the Golly toy factory. There are blinking arrows on the walls and life-sized stuffed animals around every corner. There’s the Kaleidoscope room, eight stories tall, dancing with color. There are funhouse mirrors and palm trees and hot-air balloons and dancing skeletons and floating panda bears and random showers of gold confetti. Think Willie Wonka, toy maker.
The competition is a 50th anniversary celebration for the Golly Toy and Game Company with prizes including a college scholarship, Golly products, “plus other stupendous prizes and experiences too fabulous and too numerous to name!”
But it’s more for Gil. Winning will allow his family to escape Orchard Heights, his and Golly’s hometown. His father, a former employee, was arrested and charged with embezzlement just under a year prior. With no job and no income, Gil’s family is stuck in a town that loves the Golly Toy and Game Company, a town that followed Gil’s family like the Playskool Paparazzi during the trial, a town that still harbors ill will to the Goodson family despite Mr. Goodson’s acquittal.
Kids will cheer for Gil, hoping he will succeed, but they’ll do it because Gil is a great character, the contest is so engaging, and the book is simply fun. Codes, puzzles, physical challenges, memory, races … all in what seems to be the world’s coolest toy factory and all designed for reader interaction. That’s what will get and keep kids’ attention.