Hank Zipzer: Niagara Falls, Or Does It?

by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver (2003)

Here is the original Hank Zipzer title – the introduction of a winning character and a series 17 volumes strong.

Henry Winkler (yes, the Fonz, from Happy Days) began the series, at the suggestion of his agent, because reading had been so difficult for him in his youth.  As he has discussed in many interviews, he’d been told he was ‘stupid’ so often that he gave up on school.  (Winkler claims he didn’t read a complete book all by himself until he was 31.) Henry Winkler is dyslexic.

So he’s created Hank Zipzer – the world’s greatest underachiever.  Yes, Hank struggles with the technical aspects of school.  But Winkler and his co-author, Lin Oliver, don’t play this aspect heavy handed.  Hank’s challenges are there all the time, but he is plucky, resourceful, and irrepressible.

The word ‘dyslexia’ is never mentioned – although all Hank Zipzer novels are published in a special font – Dyslexie – designed to make them easier to read for dyslexic students.  But Winkler hasn’t created a series just for dyslexic kids.  Hank Zipzer will appeal to almost any elementary school student – because he’s curious and energetic and funny.

He’s wary of his teacher, Ms. Adolf, and his principal, Principal Love.  He has close friends (they do magic together) and at least two antagonists: the well meaning know-it-all, Robert Upchurch, and the boastful attention hog, Nick McKelty.

In Niagara Falls, or Does It? Hank attempts to escape the simple, classic 5-paragraph essay on “What I Did Last Summer.”  Hank’s strategy is to go the extra mile and create a working model of Niagara Falls! – without telling his teacher (or principal).

Winkler and Oliver’s prose is lively and funny in every chapter.  Hank wisecracks with the audience, pulling readers in.  There is plenty of attention paid to food, both horrible (Hank’s Mom makes vegetarian luncheon meats) and wonderful (his grandfather, Papa Pete, takes Hank and his friends out for pizza slices, and serves them root beer floats on command at the bowling alley).

Hank Zipzer helps all of us understand the challenges of being a dyslexic reader in lively, fast-paced settings that will be familiar to readers of both the Humphrey series and Charlie Bumpers.

We’ll be adding Book 2 in the series, I Got a ‘D’ in Salami, soon.  And look for Winkler and Oliver’s Here’s Hank series soon among our Intro Books.