Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things by Lenore Look is so much fun from the moment you see the front cover it almost doesn’t need a review. Alvin, a second grade boy, proudly tells us “I come from a long line of farmer-warriors who haven’t had a scaredy bone in their bodies since 714 AD. In China my ancient grandpas and grandmas fought off leopards and tigers in their gardens the way Calvin and Anibelly and I fight off mosquitoes at Walden Pond.”
Unfortunately, as you know from the title, Alvin is afraid of practically everything. He lives in historic Concord, Massachusetts, where the American Revolution started. Fortunately he is not afraid of anything that explodes. “I was practically born with gunpowder in my blood!” In the very first chapter he tells us all we need to know about him for starters including all his fears and the fact that he can’t speak a single word at school. (He doesn’t use the term selective mutism, but we get the idea.) Lucky for him, his seatmate is his good friend Flea. As she says, “Alvin can talk with his eyes.”
He’s a narrator with so much zing and gusto that we’re captured from the start. The ink drawings by LeUyen Pham are cartoon perfect. They’re so frequent it almost feels like a graphic novel. You feel like you’re right there in his family by page 3 when you see the picture of big brother Calvin, baby sister Anibelly and his big dog Lucy.
Look employs great, laugh-aloud story-telling all the way through, and like I mentioned, the drawings are amazing. It’s sheer, 21st century genius to have this Chinese American boy living in this American cradle of liberty, filling us in on all we need to know. His “woeful glossary” at the back gives his funny take on everything from Minutemen and Chinese radishes to Beethoven and his brother Calvin.
Alvin Ho is more than belly laughs. It has great storytelling and lots of heart. I read it to a 4th and 5th grade class at the start of a year and they loved it. Fortunately, the first Alvin Ho from 2008 has been followed by Alvin Ho: Allergic to Camping, Hiking, and Other Natural Disasters and Alvin Ho: Allergic to Birthday Parties, Science Projects and Other Man-Made Catastrophes.
Alvin’s life is woes and joys and dramas like the human experience. If I were the Newbery committee, Alvin could proudly wear the Newbery Medal around his neck. Keep working things out, Alvin. We’re with you all the way.