January 6, 2011
The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester
by Barbara O’Connor
Frances Foster Books
I have to admit that the first thing that caught my attention with this particular book was the cover — two kids in a mini-sub pursuing a swimming frog. Incidentally, that would have been me on the left (in awe but apprehensive) while my husband (the one thinking “oh cool!”) is on the right.
But more about these similarities later.
Owen Jester is in a bit of a mood. His father has lost his job so he and his family have had to move in with his grandfather. This means that he no longer lives next door to one best friend and across the street from the other. In fact, he now lives next door to Viola, the peskiest most know-it-all girl ever to pester a boy. The good news is that there is a barn full of old stuff begging to be gone through, train tracks, a big ol’ pond with a dock and lots and lots of woods to explore which Owen does, tracking a good bit of it all across the kitchen floor.
He’s managed to catch the biggest bullfrog ever but Viola insists the frog is sad and should be set free. Owen is certain that Tooley, what else would you name a frog, is perfectly fine but as the frog jumps less and refuses to croak or eat, he begins to wonder. Can a frog be sad? Should he be let go?
One night Owen is lying in bed listening to the train clatter down the tracks when he hears a wooden crash. Something has fallen off the train and Owen is determined to find out what. Now he just has to figure out how to include his best friends, leave out Viola and stay, more or less, out of trouble.
Owen is, as I am learning, every boy. He has his own agenda, which only on rare occasion overlaps with that of one or more adults. He hates it when someone knows more than he does, will make things up just to have something to say, but is also in awe of someone who can get things done, even if that someone happens to be a know-it-all allergy- ridden girl.
The one thing that truly bothered me about this book was that the know-it-all be-spectacled pest is a girl. It seemed 2-dimensional and a wee bit stereotypic mostly because it hit a little too close to home. Yes, in an earlier time I could have easily been mistaken for Viola. Very easily. But then I live with Owen the Shorter and Owen the Taller. So maybe the characters aren’t stereotypic as much as they are uncomfortably realistic. Ahem.
I don’t remember ever seeing how old Owen is but he strikes me as pretty much your typical 5th grader. Busy. Messy. Determined. At only 168 pages, this book wouldn’t overwhelm a less-confident reader.
A girl would enjoy the fact that the one who figures out practically everything is a girl.
The book also had a bit of an old time feel. These kids are outside, building and doing. They aren’t texting or e-mailing and I remember next to nothing about the phone.
My son came in and wanted to know what I was doing. After I read him the review and we chatted about the book, he took it with him for his next read.