Hoot

by Carl Hiassen (2002)

A Middle School selection. 

“It’s important to stand up for what’s right, but sometimes there’s a fine line between courage and stupidity.”

Hoot is the great Carl Hiaasen’s first foray into children’s literature, and he won the Newbery Honor for it. Well known for his adult novels with fast-paced, humorous tales of environmental shenanigans in Florida, Hiaasen hit a home run when he decided to pitch a tale for younger readers.

A kid’s tale of environmental vigilantes might be predictable and preachy, but in Hiaasen’s hands it is anything but.

Hoot is funny, full of hapless bad guys, and the savvy kids who outsmart them.

Hoot is mysterious, a shaggy tale exploring who is out to save the burrowing owls threatened by a new pancake house franchise.

Hoot is informative, as the investigating policeman, Officer Delinko, and the protagonist, Roy – and the reader! – learn to care about the owls and protecting them.

“He’s a tough little cockroach. He’ll be okay.”

But the secret beating inside of Hoot is heart. Roy is a winning Everyman, who stands up to the school bus bully as he tries to find his place in a new town. But when he becomes curious about the mysterious “running boy,” the story shifts from a typical school bully story to something bigger. Roy ends up teaming up with the notorious and misunderstood “Mullet Fingers,” who lives on the run and who devises a series of ingenious and witty tricks to sabotage the Mother Paula’s Pancake House to protect the owls. And that’s when Hoot beings to steal into the reader’s heart.

“His body was exhausted but his mind was wide awake, buzzing with the day’s turbulence.”

Roy manages to elude, and counter, the school bully with a surprising ally – another misunderstood character, Beatrice, who intimidates lots of Roy’s peers and has a connection to the elusive Mullet Fingers. (Yes, we do learn his real name…)

Roy inspires his peers to take up the cause of the owls with some good, old fashioned protest signs and songs. The kids win, and the owls are saved. The bad guys – the bus bully and the greedy pancake corporation – are vanquished.

But more importantly, Roy and Mullet Fingers and Beatrice forge an unexpected and constructive bond of understanding that will warm your school readers’ hearts, and inspire many of them to read more of  Hiaasen’s stories for younger readers: Flush, Scat, Chomp, and Squirm.

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