October 3, 2012 by Heidi
Title: Pickle: The (Formerly) Anonymous Prank Club of Fountain Point Middle School [Amazon|Goodreads]
Author: Kim Baker [Website|Twitter]
Standing: Stand alone novel
Genre: Middle Grade, Contemporary, Humor
Published: September 4th, 2012 by Roaring Brook Press
Format: Hardcover; 240 pages; Illustrated by Tim Probert
Source: ARC provided for review from publisher.
This is the story of THE LEAGUE OF PICKLE MAKERS.
Ben: who began it all by sneaking in one night and filling homeroom with ball-pit balls.
Frank: who figured out that an official club, say a pickle making club, could receive funding from the PTA.
Oliver: who once convinced half of the class that his real parents had found him and he was going to live in a submarine.
Bean: who wasn’t exactly invited, but her parents own a costume shop, which comes in handy if you want to dress up like a giant squirrel and try to scare people at the zoo.
TOGETHER, they are an unstoppable prank-pulling force, and Fountain Point Middle School will never be the same.
Kim Baker’s debut, Pickle, is the type of middle grade book that invites the reader in, imparting special secrets and trusting them as part of an inner circle. It is creative, fun, never crosses that line into too cheesy, and yes, a little bit gross. Kids will love this book.
Pickle and the members of the League of Pickle Makers (aka the PTA–Prank and Trickster Association) will bring a little laughter to the lives of all it’s readers (yes, even those over 20–as long as all of their humor hasn’t leaked out). Ben, our main character, realizes that it’s nice to kick back and have a little (mostly) harmless fun. Attending sixth grade at a middle school where the principal is not only strict and humorless, but also the grandmother and guardian of his best friend, Ben realizes that to continue the good life he’s going to have to go underground. He recruits some classmates he feels are of like mind, founds the PTA, and even secures funding by officially registering the club as the League of Pickle Makers.
Pickle involves making new relationships, learning what lines shouldn’t be crossed, and sticking by your friends. It also features two things that, quite frankly, there aren’t enough of–a main character who is both male and a minority. Ben is of Mexican heritage, he speaks a mixture of Spanish and English at home, and his family runs the local Mexican restaurant. In fact, the entire League of Pickle Makers is a diverse group with Frank who is African American, Bean, who is Asian American, and Sierra and Oliver who are white. I really appreciate that this diversity was expressed through the illustrations, but that no deal was made of it in the text. Kids need to see that any character in the book could be diverse, not just as a token sidekick or in ‘issue’ books.
Of course, as one can imagine, the kids don’t always make the best decisions as to what is and what is not a ‘harmless’ prank, and the adults don’t always react with the same amount of humor. I really appreciated that in the end, none of the characters experienced ‘The Great Reform’. The crabby and strict principal was still crabby and strict, and while she and the kids understood each other better, they maintained their rolls. Friendships were changed, because this is the time in life when those things happen, but at the same time it was fairly equitable all around.
I would be remiss if I didn’t tip my hat to Tim Probert for his excellent illustrations in Pickle. They capture a sketchy scene and cagey looks perfectly, and definitely add to the humor of an already good story.
Pickle gives kids ideas of pranks they can do that are, more or less, harmless. The group decides early on never to do anything mean or hurtful, but to do things that will be fun (well, probably less fun for the poor janitor of Fountain Point Middle School). This book has a great spirit, and certainly has a place in classrooms, libraries, and home collections. Just be prepared for some interesting goings-on if you hand this to a child.
Here’s the opening that I love. Follow the directions–they all work, and there is really a secret website for the PTA (Prank and Trick Association):
Can I trust you? I mean, to tell you this story I need to know that you can keep a couple of secrets. I’m already in a whole lot of trouble, and it’s not just me. But I want to tell you everything that happened. Everything. I’ll assume that you can keep the important stuff secret and not pass this book on to anyone older than twenty. I’ve been paying attention, and I’m pretty sure that’s when a person’s sense of humor starts leaking out. If somebody is that old, this isn’t their kind of story, anyway.
I’m talking about the League of Pickle Makers. Can you think of a club a person would be less curious about? That’s the point. Five of us meet on Thursdays, after school in the science lab. You’d expect somebody would think it was fishy that a group of kids are excited enough about making pickles to meet every week. On meeting days we take turns making a show out of carrying around some vinegar or a sack of cucumbers. We even have a website. Check it out–www.picklesforever.com. Click on the “Fizzy Pickle Soup” recipe, and then click on the word “simmer” down at the bottom. The password is “cheese.”
Now you know we’re not really an organization of picklers. Honestly, I don’t even like pickles that much. Only a few people know how it started. Us–and if you think you can handle it–you.
I also want to point out that the character Bean’s website–http://catvsdude.com/ is also completely real! This was such a fantastic added touch to this book, just the type of thing that makes books an interactive, rather than an inactive, experience.
Likelihood that I’ll be back for more: This was a wonderfully fun debut with all of the elements that make a middle grade book fun, I’d love to see more from Kim Baker!
Recommended for: Upper elementary/lower middle school readers, particularly the pranksters in your life. I think this is a great book for boys! In fact, I plan to get a copy for my 9 year old nephew for Christmas. He prefers non-fiction, but I think he’d appreciate the pranks the League of Pickle Makers pull (though my sister might not be so appreciative when her sinks all get saran-wrapped).
Get a second opinion:
Have you reviewed Pickle? If so, let me know and I’ll link you here!