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.