Quinny & Hopper by Adriana Brad Schanen

May 17, 2014

I debated whether to read this book by myself or with my kids. But they saw it sitting on my dresser and were totally taken in by the cover. (You have to admit, it does look rather entertaining.) They begged me to read it to them. And I relented.

It was a smashing hit. Even without dragons, they loved it far more than our last read aloud and never were satisfied when I told them it was time to stop for the night.

The story is told from the points of view of two eight-year-olds: Quinny (saucy, spunky, friendly exuberant) and Hopper (shy, quiet, observant, sensitive). Quinny has just been transplanted with her family from vibrant New York City to boring Whisper Valley. The transition is rough until she meets the boy next door (Hopper). Meanwhile, Hopper is trying to survive the summer by staying away from his older twin brothers. This means he spends the majority of his time in his room building anatomical models and drawing. He is a little dumbfounded when he first meets Quinny--he just doesn't quite know what to do with all her energy. But he finds that he rather likes it.

Their main occupation over the summer is trying to capture Freya, a beautiful zebra chicken whose owner used to live in Quinny's house. They want to return her to him, but all of their efforts prove unsuccessful. Then, with the beginning of third grade looming just ahead, everything changes. Hopper is sure Quinny won't want to be his friend anymore, and Quinny's attention is being manipulated by the glaringly popular Victoria (who is quick to point out all the "rules" that accompany third grade). Luckily, Freya, that ornery chicken, is able to keep Hopper and Quinny's friendship together.

My main concern going into the book was that the back-and-forth narrative would be really confusing to my boys. Up to that point, we hadn't read a book with that format, and I wondered if they'd be able to keep track of the characters and who was telling the story.

But I was pleasantly surprised. Schanen created two really distinguishable characters and voices, and neither Aaron or Max ever seemed to be confused on this point. In fact, it was one of their favorite aspects of the book and one of the main reasons they resisted putting it away each night: "Oooh, it's Hopper's turn? Oh, just read his chapter. It's short, right? Please?!"

As already mentioned, Quinny and Hopper are both going into third grade, and so the story is written to appeal to 7- to 9-year-olds. I have to say, I think Schanen perfectly captured the language of eight-year-olds. Too perfectly, in fact, for me. As some of you know, I'm a little on the controlling side when it comes to what my kids listen to and watch. I've found that boys do not need to be exposed to potty language to just come up with it on their own, and so I've tried to limit their exposure to rude and crude language as much as possible. They don't need any encouragement or additional ideas.

So I found myself editing phrases and sentences in the book, especially Quinny's descriptions, which were often about her irritation with her two younger sisters and their gross habits.  Sometimes I didn't see it coming in time to save myself from a rather awkward sentence, like, "Hey, Hopper, did you know that butterfly has . . . is . . . a really funny word," but my kids never seemed to notice. For the most part though, it was really easy to skip over a phrase here and there . . . much easier than when they're watching a movie (that's why certain shows are just banned completely around these parts). I know some parents reading this will think I'm making too big a deal about making jokes about bodily functions and treating kid-sisters with annoyance. Really, in the big picture, a little potty language is harmless and doesn't even phase many parents (who are as much the culprits as their kids' peers on the playground). But I'm trying to encourage my kids to speak a little more respectfully. However, it's obvious the author has had experience around this age group of kids, and what she has written will definitely appeal to them and be easy for them to relate to.

On the whole though, we all became quite attached to Quinny and Hopper. Even my husband, who wasn't listening to the book, knew all about them because the boys loved to talk about them as if they were real people (and sometimes I would catch him eavesdropping on the end of a chapter). Max especially likes to give detailed recapitulations of all his favorite parts to a captive audience. I had to laugh one day when he said he thought out of all the people in our family, I am the most like Quinny. From my perspective, he is definitely the most similar.

Quinny and Hopper's friendship is an unlikely one. Their personalities are quite different, and it is doubtful whether they would have ever become friends if they had met in New York City instead of Whisper Valley. Because she is so lonely, Quinny reaches out to Hopper out of convenience (he lives right next door) and desperation (she has to have someone to talk to). Hopper's only friend had moved away a few months before, and so, in a way, he is grateful Quinny forces her friendship on him because he would have been too shy to ever approach her. As unlikely as this whole arrangement is, it works, and they really balance each other out quite nicely. I also love that we get the contrast between true friendship (Quinny and Hopper) and a manipulative relationship (Quinny and Victoria). It made the reconciliation that much sweeter.

This is a cute story of friendship that was enjoyable to read from start to finish.

Many thanks to Disney-Hyperion for the review copy. In case it wasn't obvious after I confessed to being a controlling mother, all opinions are definitely my own.

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