Originally published in November 2013. There are very few chapter books with Asian protagonists, so Alvin is a welcome young man in the chapter book genre.
By Lenore Look, Illustrated by Leuyen Pham
Published by: Schwartz & Wade; Reprint edition (September 13, 2011)
Available in: paperback, hardcover, Kindle, NOOK, audible audio edition
At the time of this review, there were five books in Alvin Ho series.
Alvin Ho is afraid. And it is hilarious.
The Alvin Ho series centers on a second grade boy who takes us on a comedy of errors through word play, common childhood mix-ups and a good dose of self-deprecation. This kid is terrified, and while the writing make us laugh through it all, we are also allowed to take it all very seriously.
In this particular book, the fear of going to a funeral guides a plot that explodes with miscues and misunderstandings. Through misinformation from friends, Alvin envisions a wake where the body sits up and heads to the pub because he’s hungry while somebody’s dead grandma sits around the DMV. Funny, funny stuff.
And yet, it touches on real fears and realities: most kids haven’t gone to a funeral and don’t know what to expect. Most kids also get their information from friends.
The human relationships are absolutely heartwarming. A main component of the drama is played out through intergenerational action, from grandparents who don’t get mad to a younger sister who gives Alvin a piece of her prized blankie. And yet, the relationships are real. We are told the older brother can really kick his butt, and the younger sister is generally in his way. Totally normal stuff.
Alvin’s Chinese heritage is a big part of the story as well, but never in a loud, in-your-face way. Cultural aspects are woven subtly and with skill: we understand that Alvin and his family have certain qualities and customs, but those neither tell the whole story nor are left out of it. Brilliantly, naturally done.
The ink illustrations, while thoroughly modern, have a throwback feel that bolsters the humor of the text. For instance, one drawing shows an older woman with a very ‘50s vibe of curly hair, fur coat and stout build. She holds the leash of a funny little dog that sniffs at Alvin’s ankle.
Scaredy-cat or not, Alvin Ho is a real winner.
What do you say teachers, parents and writers? Use the comment below and let’s chat….