Saturday, March 13, 2010

Review: The Gollywhopper Games by Jody Feldman

I was working at the school's book fair the other day and thought this one sounded cute. I set it aside to get for my second grade son but after a mom at the bookfair asked me to read it and let her know how it was, I dove into it first. I do still think it'll be cute for the kiddo but as an adult I have to say it was awfully derivative and that was somewhat disappointing. Even the author admits in the end note that she specifically wrote this when she couldn't find another book to satisfy a child who had just finished Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. And the obvious influence of that classic is evident in so many ways in this one.

Gil Goodson is desperate to join and ultimately win the Gollywhopper Games, the 50th anniversary celebration of the Golly Toy Company. If he wins, his dad has promised him that the family will move out of town and away from the lingering terribleness and malicious gossip following "The Incident." It turns out that The Incident refers to Gil's father being arrested for embezzling from the Golly Toy Company and although he is eventually found not guilty, the town has tried him in the court of public opinion and come back with a guilty verdict, resulting in the ostracizing of the family and Gil in particular. And Gil wants to leave all of this behind, hence his entry in the contest.

He does get into the contest, successfully answering questions related to Golly products and he is one of the top ten after the final question, ensuring that he can go forward in the Games. Like in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the Golly Toy Company building, where the second portion of the contest takes place, is an awe inspiring place of magic and fantasy. And Gil is, of course, not alone as a contestant. His fellow contestants are initially his teammates: Thorn, whose father bought up enough toys to guarantee him a spot in the contest; Rocky, who used to live in town and is so focused on winning that he is willing to cheat in order to come out on top; Lavinia, the sheltered bookworm; and Bianca, whose sole goal is to make it on tv. First the group must work as a team to defeat the other team of five and then they must compete as individuals to win it all. Although Charlie and the Chocolate Factory doesn't have puzzles to solve and stunts to perform, these puzzles and stunts are still reminiscent of the various stages of the tour Willy Wonka offers since they take place in a wonderous and fantastical place with characters eliminated at each juncture.

The subplot of Gil's father's disgrace comes into play a few times throughout the action of the novel and while the resolution is predictable and easy to see as an adult, I'm not convinced that it would be so glaringly obvious to a child. The characters here are, thankfully, not entirely good or bad (well, aside from Gil, who is a bit of a conciliatory wishy-washy character). The ultimate end of the book is so predictable that it was disappointing to me and the puzzles weren't as hard as say, those that Ellen Raskin concocts in some of her wonderful books like The Westing Game, but they will probably be hard enough for the target audience, if the audience tries to solve them themselves instead of racing through the explanations to get back to the games. Feldman is inventive in her setting but given that she seems to have the imagination, I found it a let down that she didn't go further afield from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in the plot. However, I suspect that this is simply a problem because I am an adult reading the book and not a kid. If you only have time for one book, I'd say read Charlie but if you have time for two, go ahead and compare with this one too. Oh, and one final note: this would not be a good read aloud book unless the reader is willing to draw visuals of the word puzzles.


  1. This sounds like so much fun! Thanks for the great review.

  2. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was one of my favorite books growing up. Maybe it's time for a reread! I might see if my library carries this one too. I do like the idea of the puzzles, although it's too bad they're not as well done as The Westing House ones.


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