________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIII Number 32. . . April 28, 2017



Andrew Larsen.
Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press, 2017.
208 pp., hardcover, $16.95.
ISBN 978-1-77138-661-6.

Grades 3-6 / Ages 8-11.

Review by Cate Carlyle.

*** /4


I knew the fifth-grade Spring Chess Challenge was a big deal. And I knew he had to practice before the tournament. But knowing all that didn’t make me feel any better. Max was spending more and more time with the chess club and less and less time with me. I almost started to wish I was in the chess club, too.

And then, Max and the chess club won the Spring Chess Challenge. They all wore their gold medals to school. There was even a special Assembly of Champions where each member of the team was introduced and they got to show off their trophy. Chess was all Max and the rest of the team talked about at lunch. They kept on telling the same stories about all the funny things that happened at the Challenge.

I looked for other people to sit with at lunch, but that didn’t work out so well. When you’ve been sitting beside the same person for so long, it’s not so easy to suddenly switch places. Everyone has their usual spot, so I couldn’t really move around without taking someone else’s spot. I ended up sitting by myself at the far end of the fifth-grade lunch table. Max didn’t seem to notice. He was busy with all his new friends. The truth is I still wanted to sit with him. I just wanted him to get tired of his chess friends.

Max was changing. I wasn’t changing at all. He had his chess club and his chess club friends. What did I have?

I had Max. Sort of. That was it.


On the cusp of finishing fifth grade, 11-year-old Henry is feeling out of sorts with the world. The arrival of his baby brother Sam has changed everything; his mom has just received a promotion and will have to travel for work, and his best friend Max is changing as well. Max has been Henry’s best friend since Kindergarten, and yet he’s started making fun of Henry’s clothes and calling him names at school. Max has a new group of friends, including Gretchen Thorn (a girl!), he’s in the Chess Club, and his parents are sending him to camp for the summer. Henry‘s parents won’t send him to camp, and he is definitely not looking forward to a summer at home with his Dad and Sam while his mom is working in Las Vegas.

     Over the summer, Henry receives emails from Max but doesn’t reply at first. Hurt by Max’s behaviour at school, Henry is relieved to hear that Max is not enjoying coed camp and misses his friend. Forced into a “staycation” with Sam and his dad, Henry is surprised to find that he enjoys their company and the backyard campouts and outings with his Poppy and Poppy’s dog Rupert. Henry even strikes up a new friendship with Gretchen Thorn. Following through on his fifth-grade teacher’s parting advice to “make mistakes”, Henry spends the summer rediscovering his family and learning what it means to accept yourself and take responsibility for your actions. He even resumes his friendship with Max as they re-connect via email.

     Larsen has crafted a gentle and authentic story of a boy coming of age and coming to terms with changes within himself and his friends at a very pivotal age. The language in Dingus rings true; it is an accurate depiction of a young boy struggling to mature while hesitant to leave boyhood behind. Larsen depicts a loving family, not without its all too human flaws, governed by a stay-at-home dad and involved grandparent. Henry is a likeable boy facing universal issues of childhood that readers will relate to regardless of their gender, age, ethnicity, social status or family dynamic. Dingus would work well as a whole class middle grade chapter book read-aloud, an introduction to classroom discussion on bullying and friendship or a title to encourage young male readers. A “nice” read, in the best sense of the word.


Cate Carlyle is a librarian at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, NS. She is not sure whether she is a dingus or a doofus.

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
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.

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