Throughout his earliest years at school, exuberant Donald Zinkoff smiles and laughs like crazy, even when a big kid steals his giant giraffe hat on the first day of first grade, and when his second grade teacher tells him his handwriting is atrocious and kicks him out of class just because he throws up on her best blackboard eraser. Poor Zinkoff. He's sloppy and he's clumsy and, because of an upside down valve in his stomach, he throws up a lot. Zinkoff may view life as a hilarious adventure, but over the years, his classmates have dubbed him a loser.
Zinkoff is the kid with no best friend, the one who makes his team come in dead last for fifth grade field day, the student even teachers find annoying. On the day of the big snowstorm, when a little girl goes missing, Zinkoff braves cold and sleet to search for her. Could the kid everyone has written off as a loser have heroic qualities, too?
Told in riveting present tense, this exquisite character study, a portrait of hapless but harmless optimist Zinkoff, a year by year unfolding of his life through sixth grade, will have listeners shaking their heads in recognition, and maybe self-reproach. Spinelli has an uncanny knack for making readers think deeply and care about his characters and, by extension, their peers as well. Being immersed in Zinkoff's quirky, goofy, and earnest persona, your students will empathize with him. They'll examine the ways they view others who are different from them, re-evaluating the casual cruelties they inflict on each other to single out the ones who don't fit into the standard niche.
Reviewed by JF.
THEMES: FAMILY LIFE. SCHOOLS.
Suggested Ages: 9-12