Dan’s parents are artists. His family has to move around a lot because his mom needs to be inspired by the nature around her, and his dad just goes with it. Their next planned destination is the middle-of-nowhere woods of Minnesota, but in the meantime they will stay with the grandparents in mom’s hometown in Wisconsin. Dan is thrilled to be in civilization, and the grandparents are happy they’re there. The threat of the move is looming, though. Dan and Grandma Alice become allies in trying to make Mom see sense, but it’ll take a lot of time.
Little more about the family: Dan’s mom Rachel is a little kooky– but she’s an ARTIST! She embarrasses Dan to no end, doesn’t allow them to watch tv or be corrupted by any electronics, and deprives them of normal food (you know, like white bread). She also makes Dan watch his little sister Martha constantly. Martha drives Dan crazy because she’s two and pretends she can’t talk. He tries to trick her into talking by introducing her as Esmerelda and such. Dad is a pushover and an art professor. As I already indicated, Grandma is a strong force in this family, she thinks her daughter is ridiculous for wanting to move into the wilderness and take the family with her, and is doing her best to convince the family to stay. Grampa is along the same lines as Grandma… but you know she runs the place.
Grandma tells Rachel to enroll Dan in school. (Step one to evil plan to permanency, complete!) Dan starts sixth grade and meets kids his age. He makes a friend pretty quickly, Felix, and also gets a crush on Amanda. He sits in BJ’s seat the first day, and gets notes about it saying he’s going to die. Dan panics, thinking he’s going to get pounded by a big guy, but Felix says Billie Jo just has the chicken pox. BJ is a force to be reckoned with nonetheless. She apparently terrifies the other kids with her biting sarcasm and has a loud personality. (She may be my favorite.)
During the first snow of the season, the kids go outside and have a snowball fight. Dan is asked by Amanda to lift the heavy part of the snowwoman they’re making. He helps and even does some sculpting on the snow statue. It’s pretty awesome, but he gets teased for helping the girls. The girls love Dan all the more and ask him to be on the Snowfest committee to design some artsy stuff. He agrees, but still worries that he won’t be there for Snowfest. Sadly, Felix was out of school during the first snow because he had the chicken pox. (Yes, this is a hint for later.)
The Snowfest traditions also include a class sleepover at the library. The sleepover is during Christmas break. Felix spends a lot of time hanging out at Dan’s place since his parents are busy, important people who don’t celebrate holidays. BJ is with him when he gets dropped off, and Dan is shocked to discover BJ and Felix are half-siblings and Felix skipped a grade. Martha speaks for the first time in front of the family Christmas Eve, and everyone makes a big deal.
The big sleepover is maybe two days after Christmas. Mom and Dad need to go see the place they’re still planning on buying, and the grandparents have bridge. Martha is dragged to the library until bridge is over. She’s not acting right, and feels warm, but what can Dan do? Amanda and BJ wisk Martha away because she’s so cute, etc. but Felix observes that the girls are more likely trying to impress Dan.
A bad ice storm hits during the sleep over. Power goes out. Martha is still really hot and pouty (Dan thinks the pouty thing is normal, but is worried nonetheless). When he asks the librarian’s advice, she can’t do anything– the phones are out, she can’t give Tylenol without permission, etc. Felix and BJ take matters into their own hands by skating over the frozen lake to signal the hospital with their flashlights. The doctor gets there and Martha has– you guessed it– chicken pox.
Grandma and Grampa finally get to the library. The ambulance offers to give them a ride and run the sirens. Mom and Dad never made it to the wilderness because of the storm, they were pretty terrified the entire trip. Just as Grandma is telling them off for their stupidity (believe it or not, she hadn’t done that yet), Mom admits to having her doubts about the whole thing and they’ll stay in the cozy town.
This book is memorable. I remembered lines from it (Grampa’s “Watt invented the steam engine,” helped me win at couch Jeopardy the other week) and characters (specifically Martha and her insistence not to speak until it would get everyone’s attention) long before I picked this up at the library. I am pretty certain it was one of my favorites as a kid. A sleepover at a library? A bookworm’s dream come true!
This was published in 1991, so Felix’s expertise with computers was very impressive. The BJ/Felix sibling thing was weird. It was expected (they look the same, they both had chicken pox) so I wasn’t surprised, but it seems weird that Felix would not tell his best friend why BJ was always over at his house. Also, does anyone skip grades nowadays? I know as a teacher I SHOULD know, but I haven’t heard of anyone doing that recently. Felix is also really observant for an eleven year old. The thought that BJ and Amanda play with Martha to flirt with Dan is not something that comes out of a normal sixth (would-be fifth) grader.
The Class Part:
Grades: advanced 3rd-6th (I’m pretty sure I read it as a fourth grader.)
Grade: A Ok, I don’t have a grading system, but here’s my reasoning: It’s a cute book and has great characters that kids will remember for ages. It doesn’t teach life lessons, has nothing controversial in it unless you’re really upset about Felix and BJ being brother and sister. It’s just plain ol’ fun.