What do you do when you're a second grader who is scared of pretty much everything? You pack up your PDK (short for Personal Disaster Kit) and carry it with you everywhere. You try to stay away from things that are creepy, creaky, or sticky. You ask your older brother for advice (he's NINE, which makes him incredibly wise!) and occasionally hang out with your four-year-old little sister, even though she's little and she's a girl, because she's the sweetest, happiest person you know. But what do you do when you're a second-grade boy and you get invited to your classmate's party -- and that classmate is a GIRL, and your brother tells you that you're the ONLY BOY who was invited???
I am a stickler for reading series in order. However, when Alvin Ho: Allergic to Birthday Parties, Science Projects, and Other Man-made Catastrophes written by Lenore Look and illustrated by LeUyen Pham came across my desk, I had to check it out immediately. I laughed while I read the cover flap. I grinned while I read the first two pages. I kept reading, grinning, and laughing until the last page.
Alvin Ho tells it like it is - or, more accurately, he THINKS it like it is. Although he doesn't talk a lot, he sure does think a lot, all of which is relayed in funny first-person narrative. Author Lenore Look absolutely nails that age, when you believe what your older siblings tell you without question, when you wonder why the sky is blue one second then want to play pirates the next, when you still believe that people in costumes are the people they're portraying.
The book begins with a class field trip, and Alvin is scared out of his mind by the tour hosts pretending to be Ralph Waldo Emerson and Louisa May Alcott. His fear of Louisa becomes a subtle and sweet running gag throughout the book. I don't want to spoil anything for you, so I guess you'll just have to read the book to find out what happens. Check out the first chapter, and you'll be hooked. Trust me.
Look's writing and Phan's spot illustrations are paired perfectly here. You may know Lenore Look from her Ruby Lu series for young readers. There are so many fun moments in this book that I found myself reading lines aloud to my co-workers. (Those who are mothers to young boys got a big kick out of everything I quoted.) Look's funny book touches on phobias, social anxiety, and physical differences without ever poking fun at anyone.
LeUyen Pham has contributed art to a wide array of picture books, board books, chapter books, and more, including the irresistible Any Which Wall by Laurel Snyder and the Prince of Persia graphic novel. The illustrations in this volume add to the story, complimenting the text while remaining small and rare* enough that they won't make mature young readers feel as though they're reading a "baby book." For those of us who love classic children's novels that feature appropriate black-and-white spot illustrations, you'll certainly appreciate both the style and the placement of the illustrations here, just as I think you'll appreciate the humorous writing.
Here's the proper order for the series:
1. Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things
2. Alvin Ho: Allergic to Camping, Hiking, and Other Natural Disasters
3. Alvin Ho: Allergic to Birthday Parties, Science Projects, and Other Man-made Catastrophes
4. Alvin Ho: Allergic to Dead Bodies, Funerals, and Other Fatal Circumstances
* Judy Moody would approve. In fact...
Further Reading: If you like this series, check out the Judy Moody series by Megan McDonald, illustrated by Peter Reynolds, and The Bobby Ellis-Chan series, written by Lisa Yee and illustrated by Dan Santat.