Tuesday, March 29, 2011

O'Connor, Barbara The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester

O'Connor, Barbara The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester
Farrar Strauss see macmillan children's pub group 2010 168p 15.99 978-0-374-36850-0 elem E-BN

After Owen captures a huge bullfrog, tries to tame it, then has to release it, he and his friends try to use a small submarine that fell from a passing train to observe the frog in the pond it came from, while avoiding nosy tag-along Viola. Owen Jester is thrilled when he finally captures the biggest, greenest, slimiest, most beautiful bullfrog in Carter, Georgia. He names the frog "Tooley Graham," and determines to keep the wild creature as a pet. With his best friends, Travis and Stumpy, Owen finds summer vacation a busy time. There are frog cages to build, females to avoid (notably Earlene, his family's disapproving housekeeper and nosy know-it-all next-door-neighbor, Viola), and...a submarine to launch!

Yes, Owen discovers a two-passenger submarine that has fallen from a train, when he follows up on a crashing noise that he heard in the middle of the night. Owen tries to keep this secret from everyone but his friends (i.e., excluding Viola and all adults). But Viola is persistent. To keep her from tattling to the grown-ups, the boys agree to let Viola help them with the sub, which they plan to move into a nearby pond. They reason that if Tooley is released in the pond they will be able to observe him in his natural habitat from the vehicle.

The spare plot is smooth and focused, complemented with well-drawn, believable characters. The boys╒ nemesis, Viola, is particularly memorable. Viola, an unwanted tag along, is allergic to pine and grass and dust and dogs and just about every good thing in life. Worse (from Owen╒s point of view) she is bossy and always right.

In the end, Viola becomes an ally rather than an archenemy in Owen's secret summertime adventure. Owen learns some important lessons about friendship and responsibility. And readers -- male and female -- enjoy a well-written adventure.

Well-crafted and appealing, this novel has already been included on School Library Journal Best Books 2010. Realistic Fiction, Friendship-Fiction; Frogs-Fiction; Submersibles-Fiction; Submarines-Fiction; Bullfrogs-Fiction; Georgia-Fiction; Family life-Fiction; Adventure and Adventurers - Fiction Welliver, Hilary

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