Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Cricket Man--Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (kid review)

Phyllis Reynolds Naylor is most famous, I think, as the author of Shiloh--the much loved story of a boy's desire to rescue a dog from its mean owner. It turns out she's written 135 books for kids and teens, one of them the delightful Cricket Man. My 12-year-old read it first, said it was really good, so I read it and he was right. We both loved it for entirely different reasons--a sure sign of a good YA book.

Days later, we finally got a few moments to discuss the book in front of my laptop so I could type as we spoke. Here are some excerpts from our conversation.

What was this book about again?
Ben: It's about Cricket Man.
Ali: Very helpful. What happens? Kenny's is starting 8th grade...
Ben: Yeah, he's like 13. He got a skateboard for his birthday and he wasn't very good but he was just going to practice his ollies and stuff.
(And he likes to rescue crickets from the swimming pool behind his house--so he makes himself a t-shirt with a CM logo on it, for Cricket Man, which causes all kinds of trouble. And then there's the teenaged girl across the street, who Kenny is fascinated by and eventually becomes friends with, only to realize that something is upsetting her terribly and he's powerless to help her).

The boy-appeal:
Ben: I like the skateboarding parts, the parts where the kids get caught by the police. It kind of shows you what happens so if you're going to skate it gives an example of what you might want to do just in case that happened, and what the police might do.
Ali: And Kenny wasn't a troublemaker, right? But some people thought he might be.
Ben: He wasn't really doing that kind of stuff a lot, and none of his friends were, either. But sometimes it's good, being on his side and getting frustrated with the school and other people, like when the principal wanted to know what CM stood for [on his t-shirt] and it's like, "why do you want to know?" I guess the principal might have thought it would be like a gang symbol but it wasn't.
Ali: Sometimes adults get worried--
Ben: --too much! When the kids are fine. And it's kind of annoying for the kids.
Ali: So you could relate to that?
Ben: Not really, but all the books I've read are like that. And it's like, "Do you need any help?" "NO!"
(Kenny's a good kid from a good family and the trouble he gets into is minor but meaningful. There is some drinking in one or two scenes, which was a little odd given the particular characters involved--it's kind of stuck in there in a weird way and not really dealt with. I forgot to ask Ben what he thought of that.)

On brotherhood:
Ali: One of the things I really liked was Kenny's relationship with his little brother.
Ben: Yeah, I liked that his little brother was the only one Kenny told his secret to [about his Cricket Man t-shirt] at first, that he trusted his little brother more than his mom and dad, and of course his sister.
Ali: But also, even more than his friends--he worried they'd think it was stupid. But he knew his brother would think he was cool no matter what he did.
(Translation: Little brothers are cool. Be nice to them. Always.)

About the theme:
Ali: So, one of the big themes of this book, I thought, was being in between--not really a little kid anymore, but not quite a teenager.
Ben: I didn't really notice that. I don't pay attention to those things.
(Oh well. But Naylor did a really good job with this, I thought, and with the inevitable struggle teens face when their relationship with their parents changes--Kenny wants privacy over some matters, and his parents are hurt and worried about it. He doesn't want to hurt or worry them, he just wants to keep some things to himself)

What about the girl?
Ben: The girl part wasn't as good as the skateboarding part, but it seems like every book like that has to have a girl part. I didn't really care if there was a girl part or not.
Ali: Did you think she was an interesting character at all?
Ben: Kind of. She was confusing. I didn't get what her deal was until the end of the book, which I'm not going to say because it would ruin the book for everyone.

About the title:
Ben: I just like the name cricket man. It's not really a cool name but it is.
Ali: So it's kind of like that in between thing--cool but not cool. A kid but not a kid.
Ben: And I like crickets because they're kind of cute bugs.
(Translation: "I do not want to talk about the theme!")

The final analysis:
Ben: I just want it to be a longer book. All these skateboarding books are too short.
Tell everybody to read the book just so they can enjoy the part about scaring the cat.

(Okay. Read the book for scenes like this: Kenny loves to sink down into the pool to make himself small, uttering wounded animal sounds so the neighborhood cat comes to stalk him.

When it gets so close that all four legs are in the pounce position, when
its muscles tremble, whiskers twitch, I suddenly rise up out of the water with
this enormous swoosh, my arms bringing up a spray like angel wings, a roar
coming from my chest.

"CRICKET MAN!" I bellow.

I guess this is as close as I'll ever get to seeing an electrified cat, not
that I'd really want to.

The soundtrack: Ben picked "In Too Deep," by Sum41. It'll be up as soon as Playlist is.


  1. Great review. I agree that sometimes adults worry too much, but it's so hard not to.

  2. I just forwarded this post link to my friend who is looking for books for her kids. I'm looking for a review of the Percy Jackson series for her (and her 9.5 yo dot) THANKS!

  3. We haven't reviewed Percy Jackson on the blog but we have been reading the series (up to Book 4 so far) so if she wants specific info about it, ask away and we'll try to help.

  4. Can't give better praise than to wish the book were longer.

  5. The only one I ever read was Shiloh-how crazy that she wrote so many!!

  6. "The girl part wasn't as good as the skateboarding part" !! Ben, that is one of the best lines I've read in a review; seriously, it would look good on a t-shirt.

    Thanks for your review; we know Phyllis Reynolds Naylor from her "Alice" books, too.

  7. Wow what an awesome review! I thought it was really cool to read the discussion your son and you shared about the book :)

  8. Thanks, guys! This was a fun discussion for me, too, because we'd read the book separately (most of my kid reviews are for books I read aloud to them) so I had no idea what would be memorable for him.

    Dawn, I loved what he said about the "girl part," too. Do you think the Alice books would appeal to a boy? We saw them on the shelf at the library but they looked too girly for him, maybe. He is on the prowl for comtemporary realistic fiction with boy appeal.

  9. What words do you think could have been vocabulary words for students