Archive | July 2021

Lucky Chuck by Beverly Cleary

Lucky Chuck by Beverly Cleary

Chuck has a motorcycle, and this forgotten classic by Beverly Cleary describes it in loving detail. “This is Chuck checking his gas tank after he mounts his motorcycle… This is the off-on switch Chuck flips to the run position, after he opens the gas valve and turns the key…” Young kids who like motorcycles should absolutely love Lucky Chuck. And J. Winslow Higginbottom contributed some realistic and detailed black and white sketches, which help to deliver all the motorized excitement.

“This is Chuck’s right hand turning the throttle that gives his engine the gas…”

Chuck smiles as he lets out the clutch, and with his freckled face, he looks a little bit like Archie. But of course, there’s another character in the story that waits for him back at home. “This is Chuck’s mother worrying about Chuck and his motorcycle.” She calls out to Chuck to be careful “as he shifts to second gear and rides away.”

There’s a funny frown on Chuck’s face as a mean dog chases after his motorcycle. (“Chuck remembers the Motor Vehicle Code says he should never kick a dog because he might lose control of his motorcycle…”) I have to admire Beverly Cleary for the way she shares all the true-to-life details that you’d experience in a real motorcycle ride. (“Spit! Spat! These are bugs splattering Chuck’s face shield.”)

The book’s inside covers even include a diagram identifying all the parts of a motorcycle, and the emphasis is on safety. (“This is Chuck’s motorcycle-driver’s license. He earned it by studying the Motor Vehicle Code and passing a driver’s test.”) Beverly Cleary was nearly 70 years old when she wrote this book, so I’m surprised how informed she is about motorcycle riding. But towards the end, a story emerges, which also seems true to the motorcycling experience.

Chuck “is having such a good time he forgets the Motor Vehicle Code. What does it know about fun?” Overwhelmed by a sense of freedom, Chuck rides down the white line in the middle of the highway, before shifting into fourth gear and blowing past a truck. And this is the point where everything falls apart for Chuck. “This is a rear view mirror that reflects the Highway Patrol chasing Chuck with blinking lights…”

I thought Beverly Cleary found a great way to write a story for young readers that’s still very exciting. Though she uses a simple sentence structure, that ultimately creates some of the humor in the book — and in a very original way. As Chuck pulls over for the patrol car, he fishtails and then skids in the gravel. And then?

“This is the officer writing Chuck a ticket for speeding and reckless driving…”

Beardream, by Will Hobbs

Beardream, by Will Hobbs

As a child growing up in Alaska, the author “came under the spell of mountains, rivers, and bears,” according to the jacket of his seventh book. It also promises a story in which a bear’s great secret will be shared with a young Indian boy. Gorgeous watercolors with soft edges add a dream-like feeling to the illustrations in Beardream. There’s a sunny forest, a bear in a stream, and a steep and mountainous valley, and both the pictures and text seem to celebrate the great outdoors.

“It was springtime in the mountains but the Great Bear was still sleeping,” writes Will Hobbs – even though the picture shows the bear capturing a large fish. “Long after all the other bears had left their dens, he was still dreaming.” There’s a grassy field that’s dotted with wildflowers, and the author seems to be honoring the bear’s point of view. And because this is the bear’s dream, even the rocky face of the mountain looks like the face of a bear!

The story offers a simple description of the adventure of an Indian boy named Short Tail. “Where is old Honey Paws?” he asks his tribe, concerned about the Great Bear and his prolonged hibernation. The book is dedicated to “the Ute children of today and tomorrow.” It’s a great story for children, because the boy strikes out on his own, climbing a steep mountainside in search of the missing bear.

“[S]oon he was climbing the mountain on all fours, like a bear,” Hobbs writes. The boundaries are getting blurry in this story, and they’re about to get blurrier. When the boy rests on the hillside, the giant mountain now becomes the face of a boy. And in the boy’s dream – or is it the bear’s dream? – the boy and the bear will finally meet.

“Wake up, Great” the boy shouts into the dark cave from a colorful hill. The growling bear snarls and knocks the boy down. But in the dream, the boy tells the bear that everyone had been worried about him. “The Great Bear sad down on his haunches and thought about how respectful the boy was.”

It’s a realistic story, which makes its fanciful touches even more special. On a moonlit hillside, the boy travels through silver mists riding on the bear’s back. There’s a wooded clearing where the bears secretly gather to celebrate the end of winter. They dance to the rhythm of thunder, in a brown, fuzzy illustration. The bear dance is a real tradition of the Ute Indian tribe, and the author is re-telling the legend of its creation.

“‘Go back and tell the People,’ the Great bear told Short Tail. ‘Show them how to do the bear’s dance.'”