________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 16 . . . .April 14, 2006


Speak Up, Spike! (Yellow Go Bananas).

Franzeska G. Ewart. Illustrated by Mark Oliver.
St. Catharines, ON: Crabtree, 2006.
48 pp., pbk. & cl., $7.16 (pbk.), $18.36 (RLB).
ISBN 0-7787-2744-0 (pbk.), ISBN 0-7787-2722-X (RLB).

Subject Headings:
Fear of the Dark-Fiction.

Grades 2-5 / Ages 7-10.

Review by John Dryden.

*** /4



Spike was a little boy who lived in a big house, full of big brothers, big sisters, and several huge cousins. His dad was big, and his mom was big. Everyone, including the cat, seemed bigger than Spike. And everyone, except Spike had enormous voices.

When all the big people crowded around Spike and boomed down at him, it made him feel very tiny. The louder the big people shouted, the quieter Spike spoke so that eventually his voice was as tiny as a mouse's squeak. People were always saying, "Speak up, Spike!" But he couldn't.

Night time was the worst. Spike was especially scared in the dark because the dark was full of huge monsters.


Spike not only has trouble speaking up at home, but Spike is also scared of anything big and dark. He is scared of the dark, and he scared of shadows. He is very scared of shadows at night. His mom tries to reassure him while his dad asks him to "grow out of it." The problem gets worse at school. The class has celebrated the Divali tradition before, and Spike loved it because they made bright candles to light things up. This year, Mrs. Pugh wants to do a dark and scary shadow-puppet play. Spike is not pleased when his teacher wants him to be the loudest, scariest voice of the biggest, darkest shadow-puppet in the class play — RAVANA the monster! In the story, Spike's teacher, Mrs. Pugh, uses this Divali legend of Rama, Sita and Ravana to help Spike speak up.

     The class is full of energetic characters who all want to participate in the play. Mrs. Pugh makes sure to motivate the class by reminding them that, if they do a great job and earn a few more 'sunshine points,' then the whole class will receive a reward in the form of a 'Sunshine Party' where everyone would enjoy sweet Divali treats of Berfee and Jalebi.

     The struggle with darkness and shadows continues, and Spike becomes increasingly worried about whether or not he is ever going to pull off the job of being Ravana. Spike's night time fears grow worse, and he catches glimpses of evil shadows when he is waiting for the bus or sitting on the toilet! One day, Spike spots a shadow lurking behind him at school, but this time when he tries to carefully step away from it, he is not scared. He actually becomes amused and begins playing with this huge shadow. When his teacher finds him playing with his shadow, Spike says "in a voice he had never heard before. I don't think I'm afraid of my shadow anymore." Then later, although nervous and a little scared, he first yells, and then, after some encouragement from Mrs Pugh, "viciously" bellows "RAVANA'S ABOUT! SO YOU BETTER WATCH OUT!" The other actors fall to the floor in amazed shock, and Spike receives accolades from his teacher and classmates.

     This story is well crafted by Franzeska G. Ewart. The writing seamlessly includes facts about how shadows are made. There is an honesty about the teacher character and the student characters that is quite appealing. The book leaves you feeling good and wanting to share it with others. The story is complemented very well by fitting illustrations by Mark Oliver. The illustrations of Spike help the reader understand that Spike's imagination gets the better of him. As I read this book to a group of eight-year-olds, they noted that the shadow wasn't a monster but was Spike's hair shadow. Other illustrations showing Spike huddled under his sheets and the bathroom shadows were a hit with the kids. The splashes of shadow throughout the book keep readers pulled into the plot.

     The content and subject matter would be really well suited to any individual reader or an audience for read aloud (within the target age range). As a read aloud, I enjoyed using this story to broaden knowledge of different celebrations in different cultures. This story kept the kids interested and amused in my readings, and of particular note was the involvement of one of the students who is of Indian descent who went home and asked his mom to make Berfee and Jalebi for the class — he was thrilled to have had this story shared and often corrected my pronunciation and elaborated on some parts left out.

     The layout of the book is unique as well. The first of the fly-leaf pages introduces readers to the characters, Rama and Sita, who promise to read the book with us after warning us that Spike is afraid of the dark and monsters. Then for the next few pages, we see Rama and Sita's hands illustrated on the edges of the book as though they are reading along with us. They disappear after page 9 and reappear at the end of the book (page 42) to briefly sum up their legend and Divali. The last few pages of the book are used to have Spike show the readers how to make shadows and their own shadow puppets — all illustrated with the same fun style.

     The “Go Bananas” series is intended to bridge the gap between picture books and short chapter books. This book should be a successful one because of the pace of the plot, the endearing and humourous qualities of the characters, and the impact of the artwork.

     The one slight letdown was that I did not get to see or hear Spike overcome his fear of the shadow monsters at his home. We see Spike succeed at school when he bellows, but the only mention of future success at home was a questionable reference in the second to last paragraph in the book. “And, most of all, he was thinking about the big, deep voice he'd never known he had. It could scare even the biggest monster away!" The introduction to the story focuses on his struggles with the dark and shadows at home (as well as how his parents respond to his fears). It would have been great to have this resolved as well. Still, Speak up, Spike! is a terrific "bridging the gap" book and a fun, informative read.


John Dryden is a teacher-librarian in Duncan, BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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