Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things by Lenore Look

Aug 15, 2020

When we wrote up our plans and goals for this summer, all of the boys agreed that they definitely wanted to have a family book club again. As usual, the book selection was left up to me, and it was particularly tricky this year since we had a new member of the club (Clark!!). 

I needed something that wouldn't be too long or daunting for him but also not completely juvenile for the rest of us. Something with slightly larger text and pictures while still having some substance. After digging around for a bit, I finally settled on the first book in the Alvin Ho series. These books have been around for more than a decade, but amazingly, none of my kids had read them. 

Alvin lives in Concord, Massachusetts (a city that could only be improved if it had a volcano) with his mom, dad, older brother, and younger sister. He is, in his own words, "afraid of many things." Heading into second grade fills him with the severest kind of dread. In preparation for the big first day, he makes sure his PDK (Personal Disaster Kit) is fully stocked with all of the necessities: you know, things like band-aids, garlic, dental floss and escape routes. Just in case. 

On his first day, all ability to speak evaporates, so when a girl named Flea offers to be his desk buddy, he can't say no . . . or yes. Flea is cool because she wears an eye patch and one of her legs is shorter than the other, but she is still a girl, and girls are one of the things that Alvin is most afraid of. 

Clark was quite anxious about finishing this book "on time" even though I assured him over and over again that he could take all the time he needed, and we wouldn't have book club until he was finished. He took his commitment to book club quite seriously. As it was, it ended up being Mike who was the last one to finish, which thrilled Clark. 

We kicked off our book club with popcorn and cinnamon bears and the invitation for everyone to share a favorite moment from the book. There were many to choose from:
  • the time that Alvin's older brother, Calvin, encourages him to try getting a little taller by hanging from a tree branch . . . but then accidentally forgets about him, and Alvin is, of course, afraid of heights.
  • the chapter where someone in Alvin's class gets the chicken pox, and Alvin goes over to his house to infect himself with it (you might think that Alvin would be afraid of getting sick, but he is more afraid of going to school, so getting sick provides the perfect out). 
  • the moment where Alvin takes his dad's beloved Johnny Astro retro toy (it's a real thing--check it out!) to school and accidentally breaks it ("if you break it, you might as well plan your funeral").
  • the silent psychotherapy session that ends abruptly when Alvin starts yelling Shakespearean curses at his therapist.
But my personal favorite was a rather tender part. It happened right after the unfortunate incident mentioned just above. His dad picks him up from the therapy appointment, and Alvin fully expects to get into trouble. But instead, his dad takes him out for ice cream. Alvin says, "Usually we go to Brigham's to celebrate a birthday or a good report card, but never before for cursing a grown-up." But when Alvin questions the choice, his dad simply says, "Therapy is rough, right?" Then he admits, "I had a rough day too. So we need to stick together, and we need some ice cream." Alvin totally breaks down, but his dad is patient and understanding. They have a good heart-to-heart on what it means to be a gentleman, and Alvin's dad tells him that Rule No. 2 involves never cursing or insulting others. Alvin's dad takes the time to listen and teach, and as they leave the ice cream store, Alvin says, "It was the best time I ever had with my dad." 

I didn't know it when I chose this book, but there ended up being so many memorable parts and quotable lines--things that will probably end up becoming inside jokes for our family, such as, "I'm sorry that it's a weird book and that you're a weird girl." When Mike was reading it, I often heard him chuckling, and since I'd already read it myself, I always had to ask what he was laughing at so I could laugh about it, too.

Even though we discussed very deep, book-clubby questions, such as, "Why do you think it was so hard for Alvin to apologize to Flea?" and "Have you ever overcome one of your fears?" we mostly just sat around and relived all of our favorite parts, quoting and laughing about them all together. It was one of those perfect moments where I looked around and had the thought, This turned out exactly like I wanted it to. The camaraderie, the shared laughter, the tasty snacks, the unity of coming to a discussion with the same amount of preparation--6-year-old and 38-year-old alike. It was just delightful. 

After we were done, I checked out several of the other books in the series because I have a feeling that even if we don't have a formal discussion about it, our family needs more Alvin Ho in our lives.

(Oh, and just a PSA, if you read it, be sure to not skip over Alvin's glossary at the end. That thing is gold.)

1 comment:

  1. Family Book clubs are the best! What did Ian do during the club? (My elementary book club did Alvin Ho again before the pandemic, so I've reread it fairly recently).


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