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Hokey Pokey

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Welcome to Hokey Pokey. A place and a time, when childhood is at its games to play, bikes to ride, experiences to be had. There are no adults in Hokey Pokey, just kids, and the laws governing Hokey Pokey are simple and finite. But when one of the biggest kids, Jack, has his beloved bike stolen—and by a girl, no less—his entire world, and the world of Hokey Pokey, turns to chaos. Without his bike, Jack feels like everything has started to go wrong. He feels different, not like himself, and he knows something is about to change. And even more troubling he alone hears a faint train whistle. But that's every kid knows there no trains in Hokey Pokey, only tracks.

Master storyteller Jerry Spinelli has written a dizzingly inventive fable of growing up and letting go, of leaving childhood and its imagination play behind for the more dazzling adventures of adolescence, and of learning to accept not only the sunny part of day, but the unwelcome arrival of night, as well.

304 pages, Hardcover

First published January 8, 2013

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About the author

Jerry Spinelli

105 books3,625 followers
When Jerry Spinelli was a kid, he wanted to grow up to be either a cowboy or a baseball player. Lucky for us he became a writer instead.

He grew up in rural Pennsylvania and went to college at Gettysburg College and Johns Hopkins University. He has published more than 25 books and has six children and 16 grandchildren.
Jerry Spinelli began writing when he was 16 — not much older than the hero of his book Maniac Magee. After his high school football team won a big game, his classmates ran cheering through the streets — all except Spinelli, who went home and wrote a poem about the victory. When his poem was published in the local paper, Spinelli decided to become a writer instead of a major-league shortstop.

In most of his books, Spinelli writes about events and feelings from his own childhood. He also gets a lot of material from his seven adventurous kids! Spinelli and his wife, Eileen, also a children's book author, live in Pennsylvania.

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Profile Image for Betsy.
Author 8 books2,824 followers
January 14, 2013
And yeah, there are spoilers lurking in here. You have been warned.

Not a Jerry Spinelli fan over here. Nope. Some authors you love, some authors you loathe, and some you feel zip, zero, zilch feelings towards whatsoever. That was me and the Spinelli man. Maniac Magee? Nice enough book that did nothing for me. Stargirl? Certainly well written but not my cup of tea. Pull out names like Wringer or Milkweed or Loser and watch as my eyes oh-so-faintly glaze over as I think of what I'll be cooking dinner tonight or what television shows are clogging up the old DVR. So mine was probably the ideal state in which to encounter a book like Hokey Pokey. It wasn't that my expectations were low, necessarily. Enough smart folks in the field had been touting and hooting the name of this book ad nauseam to make me ad nauseous. But while I knew this was a high-caliber Spinelli project I probably just thought it would mean reading something like Maniac Magee 2: The Mageeing or something along those lines. I didn't expect to find a book that does everything Peter Pan is reputed to do, but without the creepy factor. I didn't expect to get swept up in the metaphor/allegory/what-the-heck-is-this-thing? that is Hokey Pokey itself. So it is that I stand before you with this book in my hand and admit with a little trepidation that it finally happened. I'm a Jerry Spinelli fan. And the reason for it is one of the strongest works of children's fiction I have ever had the sheer joy to encounter.

It should be just another day in Hokey Pokey. For Jack, it's his last. Somewhere, deep inside of himself, he knows it. And not just because his beloved bike Scramjet, is now in the possession of his number one most hated rival, the loathed girl Jubilee. No, it's more than that. When his friends start noticing that the tattoo on his belly, the one on every kid in Hokey Pokey, is starting to fade away, he knows his time is up. Welcome to Hokey Pokey. A wonderland of a place where a kid gets to be a kid for as long as they like, every day. It's the only place Jack has ever known and now he's got to go.

Step One: Establish your world and separate it from Neverland. If this book is one great big allegory for childhood (Publishers Weekly essentially accused the book of being all a dream, which is the dullest interpretation of the story I can think of) then you'd better make it interesting. Childhood ain't for the weak, after all. It wasn't until I discussed the book with other adults that I realized that Spinelli essentially makes Hokey Pokey his own childhood. There are tons of kids on bikes (no helmets) and old Warner Brother cartoons on the giant television. Plus there's Tarzan and not a single video game central to be seen. Writing groups for kids could ask them "What's your Hokey Pokey" and ask children to describe their own perfect fantasylands. Spinelli's made his own, but I don't think kids will necessarily notice. For some reason, Spinelli can put in marbles and an old western pulp feel and who knows what all into this book and you go along with it. Fancy that.

I'm a mom so I read the book as a mother. That's probably the number one worst way to read this book. I mean talk about a book steeped in nostalgia. People forget that kids love to feel nostalgia for their younger ages. Whether it's a toddler staring in wonder at pictures of themselves as a baby or a nine-year-old smiling sadly at a six-year-old's happiness, kids love thinking about the past. It makes perfect sense. As this book shows, the stages of childhood (rather than infanthood) are neatly separated into Gappergums, Longspitters, Newbies, Snotsippers, Sillynillies, etc. A single year in a child's life provides a whole new universe of experiences! Is it any wonder then that they get nostalgic? When I was a kid I used to love to read Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine because of the feeling it gave me. Now I'm a mom, and so what was my primary concern when I read this book? That if Jubilee is next in line to leave then how's that going to affect Albert? Trust me when I say that there's not a kid alive that will think of that. So clearly I am not without my own bizarre filters when I read books for children [though on a related note, how very interesting that Jubilee is allowed to acknowledge her brother in Hokey Pokey but that Jack never acknowledges Kiki. Hm.].

Oh. And did I happen to mention that the writing is rather good? Here I am talking about what the book does without ever getting into the simple matter of what the book IS. And what it IS is good. Spinelli's not afraid to get a little grandiose in his descriptions if the situation calls for it. As a result you have sentences like, "The dust plume they raised shone golden in the sun, as if a celestial cloud had just then set them down from their home in some paradise of gods." Earlier Jack mourns his lost in the wake of his rival by yelling. " `Scraaaaaamjet!' Jack cries, but his voice is already a hole in the afterwind." And then there's the opening sentence . . . but I'll get to that in a bit.

Spinelli also does some really nice things with legend and community here too. There's a great short story in The Coyote Road: Trickster Tales" about what happens when the dogs begin to talk. Written by Kij Johnson it's called "The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among the Dogs of North Park After the Change" and what happens is that the dogs begin to tell tales about One Dog, a creature that's part of their culture. The same could be said for the children of Hokey Pokey. They come up with stories about The Kid, who is seen as almost the first denizen of Hokey Pokey. In a world without religion, storytelling is the closest these children ever come to spirituality. Spinelli is fascinated with the notion of the stories kids tell one another. It's the framing sequence for Maniac Magee and now it's a pivotal plot point for Hokey Pokey.

The book is not without its occasional flaw, of course. I was a little disappointed to discover that there would be a map included in this book. To me, a map nails down Hokey Pokey too much. It's better if it's vague and shifting and the kind of place you picture in your head. But as someone pointed out to me, the advantage of the map is to establish from the get go that Hokey Pokey is not a neighborhood down the street from you. It's a fantastical place and you'd better be on board with that from page one onward or you are gonna be lost, sucker. So map it is. The book also sort of drops the whole Destroyer subplot, to a certain extent. In the story, Destroyer is younger than Jack and gets his jollies from ruining the happiness of small children. As far as I can ascertain, Destroyer is in this book solely to show the motivations of bullies and how you can defeat them in your own mind. It's Jack's counsel to Jubilee's little brother Albert regarding Destroyer that's the focus. What that doesn't take into account, however, is the fact that we were in Destroyer's head for a very long time. Suddenly we're booted out, meant to both loathe and pity him, but we're never allowed back into his head again. For Destroyer there is no happy ending. You get the distinct feeling he cannot wait to get out of Hokey Pokey and when he does (and if he still has no friends) it could be a very bad situation.

So what the heck will kids get out of this book? Well, the reading will be interesting to watch. A certain strain of child reader will begin to question the world's internal logic from the get go (i.e. what do the kids eat besides hokey pokeys, how do kids of different ages know that they're siblings, where do newbies come from, etc.). One might point out that Maniac Magee (again) had ITs own internal logic so this is hardly new territory for Spinelli. Other kid readers will be hugely frustrated by something that doesn't slot into standard fantasy. Still others will take it at face value and begin to imagine that they're there. Those are the lucky ones.

There's also a bit of a debate as to whether or not kids can have this book read aloud to them. I am of the opinion that while it might be chancy if you tried to do it in a group setting, one-on-one would be a better way to go. You have to realize that Spinelli begins this book with a crazy opening worthy of James Joyce (indeed I've already heard this book referred to as "the children's Ulysses"). It's not impenetrable, just unexpected. We're all so used to the same kinds of books beginning the same kinds of ways that when we encounter something as unique as a one-page run-on sentence involving Orion and Mooncow and the fall of a lavender star, we're unprepared. Those kids who read it on their own or read it with a parent and have someone to discuss it with, they might get a lot out of this one. You'll have to booktalk it so that they get past that first page, but once they're in, they'll be in. Hopefully.

"Sometimes the story knows more than the writer." Madeleine L'Engle said that. I think what she meant was that the reader is going to get something out of a story that might have completely slipped by the writer. And few books for children are as prone to this as Jerry Spinelli's Hokey Pokey, a book that dares to recast childhood from a time to a place. In interviews Spinelli has said that the main character of this book is childhood itself. It may be divisive, but there's no denying the writing. Let's just say this much: Your kids have never read ANYTHING quite like it before. I happen to think that's a good thing. Try it then.

For ages 9-12.
Profile Image for Jamie.
1,203 reviews68 followers
March 14, 2013
Who the hell is this book for? School age readers of experimental fiction? Those who would like Irvine Welsh to write a childrens book? Someone who would like to read a coming of age story while eating a bunch of mushrooms? One extra star is given for some interesting turns of phrase, otherwise UGH.
Profile Image for Carol Royce Owen.
970 reviews14 followers
February 8, 2013
When you pick this book up expect to be baffled for the first several chapters. You will not understand it. Period. But persist. Keep reading and story lines will start to become clear and you will then not want to stop because you will want to know what happens with Jack, his Amigos, Dusty and LaJo, Lopez, Kiki, Destroyer and even the hated, Jubilee.

Hokey Pokey is a place for Newbies, Snotsippers, Gapperbums, Sillynillies, Longspitters, Groundhog Chasers and Big Kids. A place where they are free to do as they please, watching cartoons on the 20 foot screen, riding their bikes down Gorilla Hill, or playing in Trucks or Doll Farm. It's a place where they can let off steam in Tantrums, or receive comfort at the Snuggle Stop. It's a place where wild herds of bikes roam for kids bold enough to try to capture, and every noon the Hokey Pokey Man comes offering Hokey Poke in every flavor imaginable. And it's a place where boys and girls seem to be in a never-ending battle. In Hokey Pokey Jack is seen as a hero as he rides with his Amigos on his trusted steed Scramjet, a bike like no other in Hokey Pokey.

But on this one particular morning Jack awakes to find his bike has been stolen and he knows by whom. But on this same morning he also has a realization"It's Time." But what is it time for?
Profile Image for Skip.
3,345 reviews411 followers
November 8, 2015
This was dreadful. I briefly considered giving it two stars because of the underlying symbolism for Jack's growing up and leaving his childhood behind, but the book was very confusing, with too many places and characters for any kind of coherence. Scramjet!!
Profile Image for Monica Edinger.
Author 6 books338 followers
November 28, 2012
Also at my blog.

The border year for me was 6th grade. The idea of adulthood was anathema, but it was coming. Ten going on eleven, I veered back and forth, sometimes playing longstanding fantasy games with my younger sister and other times meanly and harshly dismissing them and her. One day I was happily playing with dolls and the next I couldn't imagine ever doing so again and was out chasing and being chased by boys. Whether I liked it or not I was growing up.

It is this complicated time in life that Jerry Spinelli has captured brilliantly in his forthcoming Hokey Pokey. This isn't the Spinelli of Stargirl or Wringer; it harkens back to the storytelling style, lush language, and powerful voices of Maniac Magee and Milkweed. That said, Hokey Pokey is its own original and unique thing, one wild and crazy book and I loved it.

It is a fable set in an alternate place, somewhere called Hokey Pokey, a world of children. Toddlers, little ones on trikes, slightly older ones chasing around on bikes, and some of those really big kids that all the others look up to inhabit this land. One of these is Jack and Hokey Pokey is both his story and that of everykid. It is a work of nostalgia, but one as much for a young person just leaving childhood as it is for Spinelli or any other adult reader. That is, while he has set the tale in a childhood that is sprinkled with elements from his own 1950s youth it is so piercingly authentic that I am certain that it will resonate with anyone looking back regardless of when they were a child.

Written in the breathless NOW of the present tense, full of lush language, the book pushes the reader relentlessly along. Jack is confused. Things are changing for him and he doesn't like it. He tries various tactics from ignoring what is happening to him to being mean to those around him to vainly grabbing at things as they slip away. He tries to stop it in every way he can, but there are tinges of what might be good about this movement to somewhere else and by the end of the book Jack, as everykid and everyadult will and does, embraces it. I see this as a book that will be just perfect for the certain child-becoming-a-teen who is as confused and bothered as I was, as Jack is in this book. Someone who absolutely doesn't want to grow-up, but is.

I can't wait to see what those kids grappling with the border time will think of this original and remarkable book.

Profile Image for Barb Middleton.
1,752 reviews126 followers
August 3, 2013
Just when I think I'm lassoing certain elements in children's literature, the hokey pokey comes along and turns me all about. This book is like my first experience of seeing an abstract painting. I tugged an over-sized hand hanging by my head pointing to the picture in the museum. "Uh... daddy, I can do that." The two splotched lines on a piece of white canvas didn't look too difficult. It wasn't until adulthood and viewing the painting at the Guggenheim Museum that I realized my architectural father really liked the composition and spacial elements the artist created in that piece. I feel a bit like that kid-in-the-gallery reviewing this book. I know I'm missing quite a bit that the writer is artistically portraying. I'll give it a go, but it will be more like a "spit gob," because I know I'm not well-read when it comes to allegories.

Allegories can be discombobulating - at least for me - because the literal interpretation happens by creating meaning between symbols. If you can't connect the dots you are not going to get it. The symbols in this book represent the transition from childhood to young adult. Jack's bike is stolen by the hated, germy "girl" at the beginning and he sets off to get it back with his two best friends. The imaginary land of Hokey Pokey has no adults and the landscape is part-fantasy, part-Wild West, where the Tattooer is a piece of playground equipment and kids bikes are horses that travel in herds. As Jack chases after the girl others notice his tattoo disappearing which suggests, "it's time..." to leave the Hokey Pokey. But Jack's isn't sure he wants to leave.

The made-up words tickle and the sentences oftentimes read like poetry. The language is quite unique and is what kept me engaged versus the simple storyline. Spinelli loves the written word and it shows. The kids hear "crickets clickit," they are "kidderpillars," and they make "pickerpoke yipping" noises. "The air smells of girl and burnt rubber" and "how-schmow" can that be? He captures the sillynilly kid-speak of youth and their imaginary worlds like no other book I've read."His screams are so forceful they blow a bulge in the make-do hood" or "He feels a fillip of fear for Dusty, for he knows how ornery this girl can be." The poetic word, "fillip" means to propel and is an example of Spinelli's many poetic alliterations.

I can't say I loved the start. It isn't linear. Shucks, it isn't really what you can call a start. The reader is dropped into the imaginary land of Hokey Pokey. I thought at first I was in the mind of a seven or eight-year-old mainly because of the squishy Wanda monster and going into the mind of the Destroyer or bully who is playing in a dump truck at a park. Later, as the story takes shape and more dialogue appears, I realize that Jack is older. More around ten-years-old. I think the author purposefully keeps the age vague so the reader will give it his or her own age; thus, reflecting the transition from imaginary play-worlds to a grown-ups world.

The subplot involving the birth of a playground bully, called the Destroyer, is interesting. He wants to dominate and instill fear in others because of his anger over older kids bullying him. When Jack exposes the bully for who he is, he teaches others kids how to to deal with him. The point of view is in the mind of the bully in the beginning, but after Jack talks to the other kids we don't go back into the bully's mind. I really liked the exploration into the Destroyer's psyche and would have liked popping back into his mind after the "Jackaroo" incident.

The ending evokes the sadness I feel when looking back on my childhood and thinking of how much fun I had playing and imagining pretend-worlds with my best friend. Our adventures started every morning walking to school, where the snow bank was a cliff and the street a raging river that instantly killed if you fell into it. The hill in the backyard was mount Everest and the trees were our horses. This story will surely elicit similar stories in older readers. This nostalgia is similar to how I felt after reading The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg, a book that recreates the joy of believing in the imaginary world of talking reindeer and elves and a jolly man in a red suit. Spinelli's use of Wild West imagery where the sun sets on childhood is poignant, but I wonder if it and all the symbolism will be lost on younger readers.

The question for me is who will be drawn to this book or is it more a literary piece that is better for teachers and requires adults to help the reader connect the dots? Maybe the imaginary world will draw young readers in or will it confuse them like an abstract painting? Will middle schoolers like to look back and will they understand something that adults process and hold more dear as they age? I'm not sure. You'll have decide yourself because "That's what it's all about!"

Profile Image for Nicole.
293 reviews18 followers
April 7, 2013
Random House, 2013
285 pages
Recommended for grades 5+ (Teachers and Librarians: We pre-read so we can recommend the right books to the right readers, that is especially important with a book like this!)

Jack wakes up one day and finds that his beloved Scramjet is gone...stolen by a Girl! The Girl, Jubilee. In a one-day journey to recover Scramjet, Jack finds that his bike belonging to another is not the only change he is facing. In the land of Hokey Pokey you will find kids and only one adult, the Hokey Pokey man, delivering his daily treat of shaved ice with any flavor syrup you can think up.
Kids fill their day with things like tickling, pretend fighting, snuggling, climbing, exploring, playing, and of course, bike riding. Snorting, rearing, living, breathing bikes. The land of Hokey Pokey is a land of children's adventures.

I don't know how I feel about Jack. He must have been nicer when he was younger. Jack is one of the 3 Amigos, but he rarely gives any glimpse to readers as to why his friends Lajo and Dusty respect him so much. But Jack is approaching...teenage years, Lajo and Dusty aren't there yet. Maybe that gives Jack his edge.

This story is a beautiful allegory of childhood. Spinelli immediately throws us in to Hokey Pokey not knowing where we are or what to expect, but we soon put the pieces together. At least as an adult reader you will. The end of the book neatly ties up the suspicions readers might have about what Hokey Pokey represents.

The writing is stunning, and the emotions and experiences are so real, no matter that the setting isn't. How often do we claim children are in their own world? Which of us didn't pretend our beloved bike was a horse pounding through the neighborhood after our friends, at least once? I encourage this to be a shared reading experience, a group of readers would have interesting discussions around this story.

Some of the prose that hit just right:

"As neatly as a foot slipping into an old sneaker."
"crickets clickit."
"The girls rockwalk across the water."

The cover art is beautiful, which makes me happy. The back of the book does not make me happy. The back of the book is covered with praise for Stargirl and Love, Stargirl, with images of Milkweed, Crash, and Knots in My Yo-Yo String. That's not geared towards kids! Kids want to get a feel for this book, not others by the author!
Profile Image for KWinks  .
1,224 reviews15 followers
January 7, 2013
Still digesting this one. What can I say? My main concern throughout reading it was whether or not this would appeal to kids, and I can't seem to come up with an answer. The first chapter confused the heck out of me, and I continued to read because I feel like I am supposed to like Jerry Spinelli. Once I got through the second chapter, it was better, but I still felt like it lacked tension (it is obvious what is happening to Jack)and it threw focus on things that, in the end, didn't really matter (ie the girls digging in the shack, The Destroyer). At the same time, I enjoyed exploring Hokey Pokey. Mostly, I felt bad for the kids who lived there. And so many unanswered questions! What happens in the real world while this is going on, and who was The Kid and why is there a Hokey Pokey in the first place? I really thought it was going to end up being a mental sanctuary for abused children. I get that it is all metaphorical, I do. But, will a child? Most importantly, will a modern child get this? Can they relate to this at all? I just don't know.
Profile Image for twicebaked.
443 reviews
May 4, 2023
I LOVE LAJO. Oh and I love Jack too, but LaJo is my favorite bc he's such a good friend to Jack.

btw, if you don't have time to read the whole thing, at least read the paragraph that comes before the spoiler - that sums up the book about as well as the whole review does, it just doesn't give as much information.

Some of this was predictable, but a lot of it was a nice surprise. It's a cute story about growing up and what it means to get older, to hit that point where you're not a big kid anymore - you're an adult. And I liked how he doesn't make it obvious that it's a coming-of-age book, that it's just a simple story, but that it's all there and you can make it mean something to you.

It's a very random story, just warning you now. It's random until around page 239 I think it is, when he's kind of come to terms with everything. It's sweet, it's about friends sticking together, enemies becoming friends, doing things you've always wanted to do. The ending is bittersweet, super bittersweet, but it ends hopefully and happily and I had so much fun reading it, especially the way he ties everything into each other - people in one story to people in another (almost like they're different worlds) and how everyone feels at the end of the story.

I liked how it was bittersweet without being super sappy and I appreciated that it's WAY BETTER THAN STARGIRL!

I think it's my favorite Jerry Spinelli. His writing style is sometimes too, idk, woozy? for me, but this one was really good. I liked how he tied stuff together at the end .

I loved the ending, I thought that was a really good way to wrap stuff up, and I really liked how he made it almost a continuing story while he wrapped up this one. It's not a cliffhanger, but it leaves you knowing what's going to happen next, and next, and next...

I loved the characters (most of them). Dusty is a little bit annoying sometimes, and Jubilee definitely is. But by the end of the book I was rooting for every single one of them.

The story and why they're there and what this or that is, all of that is confusing at the beginning but trust me the ending makes it worth it. I would buy the book just for the ending, it's good. It's not like amazing, it's not like it's a mystery and finally you've solved it, it's just a really good way of summarizing growing up - but it's a kind of sappy, sentimental summary. I didn't feel that way growing up (tho I'm still growing up haha), but that's just how Jerry Spinelli writes. He can't avoid it. And besides, it's a good enough ending that it doesn't matter if it's sentimental, it's worth it.

I loved how it shows you that, you know, some things you need to let go of. Learn to move on, grow up. You can't take everything with you when you cross from kid to adult. That when you grow up, you're going to do new things, and it will seem like a whole new world to you. So leave messages, do things you've always wanted to do, help others, and change the things you want to see changed - before you grow up and leave it all behind.

Van Morrison's Tupelo Honey just fits the end of the book so well. I started listening to it around pg 239 and it was perfect. This is definitely a re-read.

Tupelo Honey - Van Morrison
Flashback (What a Feeling) - Yael Naim (at the end, after everything)
Maybe Next Year - Andrew Peterson (didn't actually listen to it while reading, it just reminds me of the book fsr haha)
Profile Image for Maria Burel.
164 reviews5 followers
January 4, 2013
Okay, so it’s Jerry Spinelli. Jerry Spinelli, whom I’ve enjoyed since I read Maniac Magee many, many years ago. And more recently, I read Jake and Lily (2012), and found that no matter how old I am, I can still somehow relate to his coming-of-age characters.

So. Hokey Pokey. First impressions are everything, right? After the first couple pages, I felt as if I had landed in the middle of Toy Story. And I wasn’t sure that that was going to be a good thing. But I hadn’t been disappointed by Spinelli before, so I persevered. About 20 pages in, I was hooked. And that was the end of that. I read the book in just a few days, being drawn in deeper every time I had a few moments to read.

Hokey Pokey is a coming of age story, but in a way completely different than any I’ve encountered before. The story begins with Jack, the cool kid on the block, and his two amigos, LaJo and Dusty. Jack’s beloved bike, Scramjet, has been stolen. And not just by anybody, but by Jubilee, Jack’s arch-enemy and a girl. As the story unfolds, the reader follows Jack on his quest to retrieve his bike, but also begins a tour of the land of Hokey Pokey, a place where no adults abide and children spend their days doing what children do best. The landscape consists of all our best childhood memories. There’s Thousand Puddles, Tantrums (where children go to let off steam and emerge exhausted), Cartoons (a giant movie screen), Doll Farm, and Trucks. It is home to children of all ages, from Snotsippers to Sillynillies, to Big Kids.

But one can’t stay in Hokey Pokey forever, and on this morning when Jack wakes up, he knows almost immediately that something is different. It’s not just the missing bike, or hearing the train whistle in a land that has no train. He feels different– separated, both anxious and excited. As the day progresses, Jack begins to realize what is happening, and what is to come when night falls. Suddenly, it’s not about the bike anymore, but of making the best of his remaining time in Hokey Pokey, and of leaving a legacy for those who will remain behind.

Adolescence is an awkward time. Children cling to their childhood, but want the independence adulthood. This internal struggle is apparent in Jack. Over the course of 304 pages, the reader sees Jack begin to transform, to accept his “fate” and even anticipate what the next day will bring. But with this anticipation comes trepidation of the unknown. Young readers will be able to relate, even if it’s in a way that they are unable to vocalize. Adult readers will want to comfort Jack, even while remembering their own adolescent days with a mixture of both joy and sorrow.

Hokey Pokey is creative, poignant, and bittersweet. Yes, the first couple pages are a little confusing. It takes an adjustment to move oneself into the world of Hokey Pokey. But once there, you are swept away, and will find yourself moving quickly along, to the final sentence. A sentence which, of course, brings the reader back to the beginning.
Profile Image for Clare.
1,460 reviews307 followers
June 20, 2013

This brilliant book is for young readers who are willing to be taken out of the real world and immersed in allegory. They'll need to leave behind solid ground and float for a while in the atmosphere, not quite sure what they'll bump into, with no idea where they'll land.

Hokey Pokey is the land of kids. From the moment a toddler is out of diapers, they're admitted to the world of kids. They roam around all day riding bikes, playing games and fighting wars. Life is an ice-cream: your favourite flavour. But it's also a battle zone: boys against girls, young against old. There are 'snotsippers' (gross) who are the newbie kids, victims and bullies, amigos and enemies, big sisters and little brothers and little sisters and big brothers.

But at the other end of kid-dom is graduation to the unknown realm of adolescence. And when a Big Kid senses his time is near, he experiences the inevitable pang of letting go, knowing he must travel, but not quite sure where to. The joys and sorrows of childhood are being left behind. Things are not so simple any more: kid-friends almost seem silly now, and kid-enemies are suddenly people you want to know.

Spinelli illustrates this change in a characteristically wacky way, navigating us through a world that is strange and yet oddly familiar, a land known to our subconscious but which feels foreign when put into words.

To advanced readers ten and up I say be brave, take a chance! Cast off, and enjoy the ride; you won't be able to stop thinking about it. Reviewed for www.GoodReadingGuide.com

Profile Image for Julie.
829 reviews9 followers
November 30, 2012
This is an unusual book, and based on the early reviews, apparently one you either love, or really don't. I found it so confusing at the start that I wondered if there was a problem with the digital file of the ARC I had received. There's invented vocabulary in an invented world of Hokey Pokey, where different aspects of childhood are represented by places such as a big screen constantly playing cartoons and a place where you can wait in line to get a snuggle. I enjoyed the creativity of these places, once I got the hang of the language, but never quite understood it all. I think I'm just more of a concrete thinker. The problem is, a lot of kids are too, and I'm afraid only a select few will stick with this book and enjoy it.

As an allegory for a child's transition into adulthood, it didn't quite work for me either. I look forward to reading further reviews of this, hoping maybe they'll help me make more sense of things.

Thank you to Random House Children's for providing a digital review copy to me via Edelweiss.
Profile Image for Jenn Estepp.
2,027 reviews60 followers
March 14, 2013
Honestly, I just don't even know to say about this one. While reading it, I was really not on board. I may have even said "Argh, I hate this" aloud, to my largely unsympathetic cat. I am not the Ideal Reader for things that are allegorical, nor do I have a high tolerance for the fetisiazation of childhood, both of which are super present here. The only other Spinelli I've read is Stargirl and I wasn't a fan, in part because I think that it, like this is so strident in presenting its world. And, I to think it's a pretty simple worldview, for all it's inventiveness w/r/t language and imagery.

And yet. I haven't been able to stop thinking about this. Or, really more accurately, I haven't been able to stop thinking about the issues that reading this brought up. (Plus, some criticisms, but I'm not inclined to lay them out.) And I kind of want to talk about it with someone, because there's so much here. I would love to use this in a kid's book discussion group, because I just think that kids and teens would have so much (really interesting things) to say about it. And it's certainly unlike anything else out there, which I do appreciate.

So, while I can't declare myself an enthusiastic member of Team Hokey Pokey, I didn't really hate it either. So, team Middle Ground.
Profile Image for Laura.
3,785 reviews94 followers
December 24, 2012
Perhaps I'm just slow, but it took me a while to realize that Jack was a real boy - this could have been a version of Toy Story. He lives in Hokey Pokey, a land filled with interesting creations and activities, like Snuggler and Tantrums and the Hokey Pokey shaved ice man. He's famous in Hokey Pokey, the owner of "Scramjet", an amazing bike culled from the wild herd; with his two friends, LoJo and Dusty, he's one of the Three Amigos. Then one day he wakes up, "Scramjet" has been taken by a girl (YUCK!!), his tattoo is fading and something is... not quite right.

The deeper message of the book is that it's ok to grow up, ok to stop loving the things that once obsessed you, ok for your younger friends and enthusiasms to seem far away. There will come a day, or perhaps a few days, when that transition from "young" to "slightly older" will happen and this is all a natural part of life. Obviously, this is a book for a younger crowed than Stargirl, but it may serve to make fans of Spinelli continue to be fans as they age.

ARC provided by publisher.
Profile Image for Joseph Brink.
383 reviews30 followers
January 30, 2023
This was an easy and engaging read, packed with nostolgia and loveable characters. It's funny and very well written... but it has very little plot. It moves slowly, meanderingly, always in a steady direction, but with very little happening along the way.

A great little book, but I don't know what kids will think of it. =)
Profile Image for Betsy.
1,711 reviews67 followers
January 8, 2013
Originally posted on Literaritea

Spinelli's world of Hokey Pokey was terrific. I loved his new compound words ("bestfriendship," "dropflopping," "shadowblur"). I loved his place names ("Tantrums," "Thousand Puddles"). I loved the feel of Hokey Pokey: an iconic place of childhood activity where children drink Hokey Pokeys when the Hokey Pokey man comes (like the ice cream truck), play on the playground, and bike everywhere on their two-wheeled steeds. The only electronic device in the picture was the giant cartoons screen where the youngest children liked to gather. Even when we hit our present, real world at the end of the book, we still only read about one TV.

Jack's coming-of-age in this book is not because of some great event he lives through or some momentous decision he must make. Instead, it is simply time to grow up and involves much more prosaic decisions like changing out his childish wallpaper to something more grown-up...or does it? Spinelli gives us a work in which the monumental shift from childhood to adulthood is seen for its significance, even if it's evidenced by a small decision to not leave dirty socks on the floor.

This is one of those books that is hard for me to peg in terms of its young audience. I wonder, in fact, if it's a book that grownups will enjoy more. Will a middle school student recognize the transformation as quickly? Will it resonate with him or her like it does for those of us who navigated the shift years ago? Will younger readers feel as nostalgic about such cartoons as Bugs Bunny and such games as jacks or simply riding bikes? I don't know. It's certainly worth finding out because Spinelli's Hokey Pokey is fantastic.
Profile Image for Denae Christine.
Author 4 books163 followers
January 24, 2013
How do I label this book? Part fantasy, part allegory, part pure imagination?

So, the setting was probably the neatest thing about this book. And the fact that pretty much everyone got along fairly well. Even rivalries were mutual and practically friendly. There was a basic understanding of their whole world, and none of the citizens questioned anything. Despite the setting feeling constant, there was still a flux, a give and take caused by certain actions. Unruliness is expected, bickering accepted, but everyone plays like breathing. Energy everywhere, curiosity more so. There are rules, but only ones no one would break anyway (like, "no kissing girls"). It is hard to describe like this, but there was no chaos. You'd think there would be, except JS built the Hokey Pokey world with order, and it all makes sense why chaos doesn't rule. It's not like everyone is trying to kill each other, and everyone has plenty so there's no reason for real fighting. In fact, there is one theft (maybe two) in the entire book, and it shocks nearly everyone who hears of it. The kids are impressed, but they still know stealing is wrong, despite that not being in the rules.

Well, the characters didn't seem very complex. Some things were not explained as thoroughly as I usually like (the wild bikes, the soccer moon, and such), and the plot got off track a lot. The ending fit very well, and I liked it. Still, there wasn't much of an actual story here, although that's probably because this whole book was about a day of transition, of change.
This was an easy read that could be simple at the surface, but it has a few layers. A neat idea.
Profile Image for Laurie.
1,516 reviews40 followers
July 7, 2016
3.5 stars. Still mulling...

Based on the idea that children "live in a world all their own" this is a strange form of children only utopia.

Jack wakes and feels different... something is changing, the concept of tomorrow is developing and childhood is on it's way out.

I've categorized this as middle grade, but I'm not really sure what age this would best be suited for. The writing is very simple but very different, and it was hard to get in to, particularly because it's just plain confusing to begin with. That might deter a lot of readers. Stick with it, and it will begin to come clear with plenty of great visuals and moments as reward. The underlying feeling and symbolism of leaving a time of your life behind my not translate entirely to middle grade readers yet either...?

It did leave me feeling some ache, over my own kids as my eldest is 11 and along this cusp, but I was happy to find as I finished reading this today that my 9 and 7 year old had concocted an entirely new game using an exercise ball as the rolling boulder in Indiana Jones - down the stairs of course, complete with pillows and other debris. ;)
8 reviews1 follower
December 29, 2012
When I first began reading this title, I admit that I was a bit confused. I almost quit.

I am so glad that I didn't.

Hokey Pokey is a beautiful allegory about childhood and that terrifying moment when each of us begins to understand that we no longer belong in the magical world of "I'm a kid!"dom.

The imagery is fanciful, yes. Bikes are horses that run in herds and must be wrangled, dolls sprout in rows to be plucked, cartoons are played on the big screen-- and you're allowed to sit as close as you want! The plot seems obscure for roughly the first chapter, but independent readers will catch on soon after. By the final page, the message is clear and moving and will transport readers back to the moment when they realized they were at the border of adulthood.

Hokey Pokey is yet another wonderful title by Jerry Spinelli (though not well-suited as a read-aloud); upper-level students and even adults will probably glean the most from its message.
Profile Image for Nancy.
475 reviews3 followers
December 10, 2012
This not a coming of age novel. This is a book about growing up. Specifically, the one day when you grow up and leave childhood behind. More specifically, the last day that Jack will reside in Hokey Pokey, the land of his childhood and the only land he has ever known. Spinelli has imagined an amazing world populated by the likes of Snotsippers, Gappergums, Sillynillys, the Hokey Pokey Man, Snuggler and, best of all, the herd of wild mustang bicycles. Gloriously inventive language reveals a story both heartbreaking and heartwarming. Definitely a family book that can be enjoyed on many levels, suitable for all ages.
Profile Image for LauraW.
754 reviews19 followers
April 10, 2013
Extended allegory/metaphor really isn't my style of book, but Spinelli is masterful with this one. I had a bike like that once. I am not really sure there is anything more to say.
Profile Image for Mickey.
69 reviews5 followers
March 20, 2023
interesting perspective on childhood, but pretty boring and uneventful.
Profile Image for Magpie67.
896 reviews102 followers
August 17, 2018
Interesting prose, very poetic and whimsey like Dr. Seuss. A dream that Jack is having about his youth and as we all know dreams can take on all sorts of wild ideas. That the bikes were like wild horses was fun to picture. Children roping down there steads to take them all around Hokey Pokey. There is that fine line of youth though... when ten yr olds and 13 yr olds find it difficult to hang and or understand each other. I saw it with my daughter and nieces... She no longer felt a connection with them as they seemed so young.

"where are you going Jack?" He replies with a shrug of the shoulders and with words like how do you know I'm going away or where would I be going.

We all look back to our youth and think about certain things that were pleasant and fond. The carefree days of being kids, days in the sun, games in street, chasing each other, swimming, baseball or kickball, getting ice cream treats etc. etc. Snow days too...

Definitely an interesting book to listen as an audio although not for long periods of time. I felt like half hour increments were long enough. Maybe because it felt like a poem at certain times, not a story.
Profile Image for Lori Gibbany.
897 reviews1 follower
December 27, 2018
Loved that Hokey Pokey is the town. The imagination present in these children is wonderful. I took this as a coming of age story and the labels of the levels of development of the children in town was interesting. At least the labels for it. Snot sucker for example. To me the best part were others around the main character noticed the changes before he did...like real life. Great book for kids transitioning from child to preteen or one that is struggling in giving up childish things.
Profile Image for alina.
66 reviews3 followers
December 24, 2020
Describes the undescribable nostalgic childhood you had. He somehow doesn't use words to describe unfamiliar feelings we've all felt. A very personal book.
Profile Image for Alex  Baugh.
1,954 reviews109 followers
April 26, 2013
Kids live in their own world and that is where Hokey Pokey is, so before you start reading study the map in the front of the book, which is basically a map of the things of childhood. It is a good guide for two reasons - to understand the layout of Hokey Pokey and to understand the references in the beginning of the story. The first time I tried reading it, I ignored the map and closed the book by page 15. But then, I was given the book to read for a review other than here. I couldn't say no, so I studied the map and started reading. And a funny thing happened on the way the The End - I absolutely fell in love with this book.

If you pick up Hokey Pokey and find you can't get into it, all I can say is KEEP READING.

Hokey Pokey is the story of Jack, who wakes up one morning in Hokey Pokey and discovers his beloved bike Scramjet has been stolen - by a girl nemesis no less, named Jubilee. So he climbs Gorilla Hill, the highest peak in Hokey Pokey, gives his famous Tarzan yell, calling on his Amigos Dusty and LaJo to help him find it. But something else has happened that day in Hokey Pokey - something feels different. Jack senses it and so does LaJo. But what is it?

Not only that, but Jack can suddenly hear a train whistle in the distance that no one else can hear, which is really strange because no one has ever seen a train on the tracks that run through Hokey Pokey. So, what's that all about?

Jerry Spinelli has always been a favorite author in this house and he has done it again. He understands that childhood is not really a time in our lives, so much as it is a place. Think about it! When you recall being outside playing with your friends, do you really see it in terms of time or in terms of place? For me, it is place. For instance, I still remember the feel of concrete on my knees as I crawled around the ground playing Skelly and never thinking of the dirt and germs I was gathering. That Skelly court was a definite place.

But, time happens within place, so Hokey Pokey is really a brilliant metaphor for childhood. Jack has reached an age - as in coming of age. His stay in Hokey Pokey is coming to a end and adolescence, that great unknown, is looming. And Spinelli has captured that transitional moment perfectly as Jack wanders through his last day in Hokey Pokey - the temporary distancing between him and his friends (unitl they too, come of age), seeing Jubilee through different eyes, dealing with 'The Destroyer', it is all there but different now.

Hokey Pokey may be the place where kids live and adults don't, but it is also a place language is its most organic. Names (not in the bullying sense) for kids like Newbies, Snotsippers, Sillynillies and Gappergummers denote age by distinguishing feature. Places like Tantrums, Stuff, Cartoons denote place by activity. Compound nouns and verbs like bestfriendship, longspitter, speedbiking, runamucking - all so simple, yet all so descriptive.

Spinelli got it right, all of it. It is spot on genius in its lyrical simplicity. Coming of age doesn't usually happen in one day, but by placing Jack's in one metaphorical day and place, we can watch it happen like those time lapse films of flowers blooming. The inexplicable changes in attitude, the confusion, the constant going forward into the unknown, seeing the world through different eyes, it's all there and more, so much more.

A funny thing happened while I was reading Hokey Pokey. An overwhelming feeling of nostalgia for my own Hokey Pokey days swept over as never before. So I called up my old Amiga just to have a little chat.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was provided by the publisher.

This review was originally posted on Randomly Reading
Profile Image for Rachael.
543 reviews56 followers
February 8, 2013
Imagine, if you will, a world made out of childhood. There are no adults. There are no bedtimes. There are no toothbrushes. You spend every perfect, sunny day riding your bicycle (which you have culled from a herd of wild bicycles), watching cartoons, playing ball, and eating hokey pokey (which is apparently a sort of snow cone - I had never heard of this). You play until you're worn out, and then you collapse under the full moon, only to begin again when the sun comes up.

Such is the daring premise behind Jerry Spinelli's new novel, and the premise is not the only daring aspect of this strange little book. It has stylistic tics that start to whack you upside the head from page one. I haven't seen prose this idiosyncratic since The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, by Cat Valente. It's like the mutant child of James Joyce and Willy Wonka.

Now, I don't mind stilted prose. I love Cat Valente, after all. If you're going to be that odd and unnatural, though, you'd better have some substance to back it up, buddy. Your weirdness better serve a greater literary purpose. To use a visual metaphor, not everybody who throws paint at a canvas can be Jackson Pollack. With Hokey Pokey, I was pretty skeptical for the first twenty pages or so, but gradually it began to win me over. It's weird, yes, but it has internal consistency. It works.

It does more than work, actually. It's gorgeous. Its whimsical style, wistful/nostalgic tone, and allegorical plot combine to form a moving elegy to American childhood. Those elements make it difficult to evaluate according to the some of the Newbery criteria, though. Setting is murky, but that's intentional, and serves the dream-like sense of the thing. Characters are almost stock, but they are supposed to be everychildren. These elements are effective, but they don't function the way they would in most middle grade novels.

Stylistically and thematically, though, Spinelli is at the top of his game.

Over in the comments of the very last Heavy Medal post until the fall, people are hella divided about Hokey Pokey, and I imagine that this will continue to be a love it / hate it title as we start discussing real contenders this fall. We will be discussing it, though - of that I feel certain.

Until then, I leave you with a few nagging questions about the book:

1. Why does Jubilee have a brother? Nobody else in Hokey Pokey seems to have a sibling. Even Jack's actual sibling doesn't manifest that way in Hokey Pokey.

2. Is the ending effective? I'm not sure if I like it, or if I would have preferred for the book to end when Jack boarded the train. Maybe that wouldn't have been as effective for the target audience, though.

3. Speaking of which - is this a book that will be as appealing to children as it is to nostalgic adults?

4. What about the kids whose childhoods don't look like so idyllic? Is that a killjoy question? Maybe it's just me, but I can imagine some people whose childhoods would be distilled into very dark imaginary worlds.

Cross-posted from For Those About to Mock
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