Fourth graders don’t waste time with their book reviews. Peter, one of my wife’s students (with remarkable taste in literature, I might add), got right to the point when he wrote simply, “Calvin Coconut was an awesome book because it was funny. On the first day of school there was a food fight.” Later he wrote, “In the beginning, with the kiteboarding guy, I thought that was amazing too.”
How can anyone argue with funny, food fight, and kiteboarding?
Calvin lives with his first grade sister, Darci, and his mom in a town called Kailua on the island of Oahu. Soon, however, Stella is coming to live with them. Stella is fifteen, from Texas, and the daughter of Mrs. Coconut’s best friend from high school. She’ll be sort of a big sister, says Mom, a babysitter. Calvin has to move into the garage storage area with the giant centipedes (which are kind of cool, he admits) to give Stella her own room.
That can only mean more trouble for Calvin. He’s a kid who accidentally goes kiteboarding with a kite and no board. He draws the attention of Tito, the school bully. His captured centipede (I told you they were cool) escapes in the fourth grade classroom. Mr. Purdy makes him the classroom greeter for the month which means shaking hands with everyone…even girls! And his forgetfulness locks Stella in her room on her first morning in Hawaii.
See? Calvin Coconut: Trouble Magnet.
Reading realistic fiction invariably brings to mind two questions. One: Could I live there? Two: Could I teach there? Calvin lives a couple blocks from the beach, across from his house is a jungle, and “high above the jungle, green mountains sat under hats of white clouds.” Yep. I could get used to that. Culturally, however, would be another story. Willy, a new kid and the only haole, or white kid, in the class, doesn’t know what cuttlefish is, but he bravely tastes it. He doesn’t know what kimchee is, but he tries that too, with shocking results. Kimchee flies. Macaroni flies. More kimchee flies. Something gooey hits Calvin. Chaos ensues, all because the new kid didn’t know that kimchee is pickled cabbage and chili peppers.
The setting would be great, but culturally? I’m sure I’d learn (as readers do), but let’s just say that, as the new guy in town and in class, I’d probably cause my share of food fights.
Calvin Coconut and author Graham Salisbury bring the Hawaiian Islands’ culture and setting to kids on the mainland. But despite any differences, readers will quickly realize that kids are kids, school is school, funny is funny, and maybe most importantly, trouble is trouble.