Walter Dean Myers was recently sworn in as the new National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, which to me is an inspired choice. In this capacity, Myers announced that his platform for the next two years is to be "Reading is Not Optional". NPR interviewed Myers and asked him why he chose this particular message to send out. Myers' response:
"Well, the problem is very often books are looked upon as a wonderful adjunct to our lives. It's so nice. Books can take you to faraway places and this sort of thing. But then it all sounds as if it's something nice but not really necessary. And during my lifetime things have changed so drastically. You can't do well in life if you don't read well."
Whether you agree with Myers or not (I happen to agree), most of us can attest to the fact that sparking a love of reading is crucial if we want to really change kids' lives. I firmly believe that there's a book out there for everyone, it's just a matter of putting the right selection into someone's hands. Unfortunately, when it comes to humor, finding well-written books that tackle important themes -- and are also hugely funny -- can be quite the undertaking. Even more so if you're hoping for multicultural titles.
How Lamar's Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy by Crystal Allen fits the bill, in every way. This is one of those books that will have you laughing on nearly every page, and reading bits aloud to family and friends. Seriously! Allen's protagonist Lamar has a quick wit and a mouth to match - too bad the two aren't always working together.
Lamar is the King of Striker's Bowling Alley, a man with mad skills in the lanes but not such smooth moves when it comes to romance. Looking to impress the "superfine" Makeda, Lamar makes a deal with Billy Jenks, a guy known for jumping in and out of juvie. Lamar figures that Billy's plan to hustle some guys at bowling equals nothing more than quick cash - enough to treat Makeda in style and score himself a pro ball from celebrity bowler Bubba Sanders. But before he knows it Lamar is in way over his head, and for once not even his smooth talk can get him out of this mess.
Allen's bio reveals that she has two sons, and that she practically grew up in bowling alleys. That firsthand knowledge shows. Not only does she capture the buzz and energy of a red-hot bowling competition, she's also got the voice of thirteen-year-old Lamar down pat. And like the best of authors, Allen wraps the heavy stuff so tightly up in the humor and tension that the deeper themes come at you almost without you knowing it. Kids will be laughing alongside Lamar and Sergio (love that the two main characters are African American and Latino!) even as they watch them work through painful emotions and difficult relationships.
I raced through Lamar's Bad Prank and was sorry to see it end. Lamar, like Joey Pigza or Greg Heffley, is the kind of kid you simultaneously root for and cringe with, who sometimes makes bad choices and always has good excuses, and who may or may not end up on top. In other words, a real kid. That and his hilarious banter should gain Lamar (and Crystal Allen) a stable of loyal fans.
How Lamar's Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy by Crystal Allen, published by Balzer + Bray
Sample: "I've known Billy Jenks since kindergarten. He's tall on attitude but short in stature. Billy's so low to the ground, I bet his hair and feet smell the same. I'd never seen a person with a square face until I saw his. It's all smashed in, like he got clocked with a can of Spam."
Bonus: Crystal Allen's interview with The Brown Bookshelf