________________ CM . . . . Volume IX Number 4. . . . October 18, 2002

cover Ricky.

Eric Walters.
Toronto, ON: HarperCollins, 2002.
165 pp., pbk., $15.99.
ISBN 0-00-639195-8

Grades 5-9 / Ages 10-14.

Review by Mary Thomas.

***1/2 /4



"Mr. Johnston!" Julia yelled out."Your snake is attacking me again." ...

All of the students stared at Julia, and Mr. Johnston turned away from the blackboard and toward the commotion. The boa was wrapping itself around one of Julia's legs, pinning it up against one of the legs of her desk.

"Just ignore him," Mr. Johnston said.

"Ignore him?" Julia exclaimed. "He's got one of my legs!"

"Just take him off your leg", Mr. Johnston said.

"I don't know how!" Julia answered. She sounded desperate.

Mr. Johnston shook his head slowly and clucked like a chicken. Everybody started to laugh. "Can somebody please help Julia?"

Half a dozen kids raised their hands and screamed out requests to help.

"Ricky, can you do it, please?" he asked.

I smiled. I figured he was going to ask me. Most of the kids had gotten comfortable with Mr. Johnston's snake, but I was more than comfortable. I got up from my seat and crossed to Julia's desk. I grabbed the boa by the tail. That's the best way to get a large constrictor to release its prey. Something about the way their muscles work. I started to unwind it from her leg. It didn't seem to want to let go and it wasn't easy to work it free from around her leg and the legs of the desk and chair.

"Please hurry," Julia pleaded.

Finally getting it loose, I lifted it up and placed it on my shoulders, around the back of my neck. It felt warm.

Ricky is a worry-wort. He worries about his father driving home on the 401 every evening. He worries about whether or not he has remembered to lock the front door, even though he knows he has. He worries that one of his 29 animals---probably his alligator---will eat one of the other pets, most probably his sister's cat who insists on using the alligator's sand as a litter box. He worries about his best friend Augie failing his biology test. What he doesn't worry about is a bunch of vandals breaking into the school and trashing the contents of Mr. Johnston's science room, destroying the animal cages, stomping on the turtles, and gouging out the eyes of the boa constrictor. No one can understand who would do such a thing; Mr. Johnston is the best-liked teacher in the school. So well liked, in fact, that when Ricky and Augie decide to ask the students to contribute to a fund to replace the boa as a surprise for Mr. Johnson, they collect over four hundred dollars in just a couple of days. A success story for everyone, with just a few nervous moments for Ricky, Augie, and almost everyone else, to add spice and interest.

     In the short apologia at the end of the book Eric Walters confesses that this novel is highly autobiographical which accounts for some of the ways in which it differs from his other novels. The plot is not complex---it is basically a straightforward story, warm and fuzzy, without subplots or even much character development. It approximates real life in that it leaves a number of loose ends of the sort that are usually tidied away or at least mentioned as being unresolved in the conclusion of the book, things such as Ricky's refusal to talk of his mother in a way that admits that she has actually died, in spite of the fact that she did so when he was five years old, and just who it was who broke into the school (except that it apparently was not the evil high-school students who terrorize the young if they dare pass through "their" territory).

     Ricky is a shy boy, happier with his animals than with his peers, and this replacement snake project puts him into an unaccustomed, and unwanted, spotlight. Augie, on the other hand, is an extrovert and loves the positive attention that it generates. How on earth did they get to be such good friends? A school project on the subject generates some ideas, but mostly they conclude that they are friends just because. Which is as good a reason as any. I enjoyed reading this book for many reasons, the picture of friendship being one, but another was that it is good to have a book where teachers are not the Bad Guys, and even school administrators have their human sides. This is a book that one can recommend and be fairly sure that almost any kid will enjoy reading it, no matter how he or she feels on the subject of snakes.

Highly Recommended.

Mary Thomas is on leave from her job in school libraries in Winnipeg, MB, and would like to be regarded as a Good Guy even by those who have overdue books.

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

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364