Middle Grade Monday book review: Calvin Coconut Kung Fooey

Calvin Coconut Kung Fooey


Calvin Coconut is a series by Graham Salisbury. It’s set in the Hawaii of Graham’s childhood and stars a big-hearted fourth grader with a talent for finding trouble. Kung Fooey is the 5th book in the series. It’s a friendship story about the new kid in class, Benny Obi who knows kung fu but doesn’t know how to handle the local bully.

Three things to like as a reader

1. If you are looking for a contemporary story with characters from a variety of cultural backgrounds where race is not the issue or the point of the story then these are your books.

2. There’s no denying middle grade readers have a taste for the grotesque. Sometimes a book for MG readers goes a little overboard with it, but Kung Fooey strikes a good balance, there’s a scene with the new kid eating bugs which is described in enough detail to make a reader squirm or a whole class audience go, “Eww!” But it’s not so vivid that you’d be uncomfortable reading it out loud or sharing with a tender-hearted reader.

3. Plenty of books take on the topic of bullying. This one is written with a better understanding of the group dynamic among boys than most, and doesn’t shoot for an unrealistically happy ending.

Something to think about as a writer

Dialect and slang are hard to write and Sandy does a great job here of adding enough local idiom to make the characters lively and authentic on the page but not so much that it is difficult to read. I’m going to go back and take a much closer look at how he uses non-language words in dialog to give it the right pacing and also how he uses turn of phrase to communicate something about culture.

How I came across this book

Sandy is another Portland writer. He gave this book to my daughter who does martial arts at a book event he held at a Moonstruck Chocolate Shop. Sandy sometimes writes at his local Moonstruck in Lake Oswego and I sometimes write at my local Moonstuck in Beaverton. On a dreary Portland afternoon it’s hard to beat a cup of their cocoa and a cosy quiet cafe to work in. Sandy is published by Random House as am I, and he’s been a generous colleague for more than a decade. I make no pretense of objectivity in my book reviews.


7 thoughts on “Middle Grade Monday book review: Calvin Coconut Kung Fooey

  1. Rosanne

    My girls like these books but I really think Graham is a great writer for boys. He gets that social dynamic among boys really well.

  2. graham salisbury

    Ha! Thanks for the review, Rosanne. This particular book was so much fun to write! I liked bug-eating Benny Obi so much I brought him back in my newest Calvin Coconut, EXTRA FAMOUS (in this book Benny is helping his uncle, a famous Hollywood producer, film a zombie movie on the beach — it’s about movie roles and the roles we play in our families). Don’t know where these loopy ideas come from, but who cares? Anyway, thanks for reviewing KUNG FOOEY. Keep adding to the good in the world!

    1. Rosanne Parry Post author

      What a great idea for a book. Movie sets are such interesting places. A bunch of my daughter’s friends were extras in a Twilight movie and the were alternately fascinated by the hubbub and bored out of their minds! Disappointingly little contact with actual movie stars. 🙂 I’ll be looking for EXTRA FAMOUS. Thanks for the sneak peek!

  3. Medeia Sharif

    I read one book in this series, Trouble Magnet, and thought it was wonderful. I loved reading about another culture. I didn’t know too much about Hawaii.

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