Title: The Small Adventure of Popeye and Elvis
Author: Barbara O’Connor
ISBN: 9780374370558
Pages: 150 pages
Publisher/Date: Frances Foster Books, c2009.

While Popeye made toast with powdered sugar on top, Velma sat at the kitchen table with her eyes closed, reciting the kings and queens of England in chronological order.
“Edward V, Richard III, Henry VII, Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I. . .”
Popeye knew that when she got to the last one, Elizabeth II, she would probably start all over again.
“Egbert, Ethelwulf, Ethelbald, Ethelbert . . .”
Reciting the kings and queens of England in chronolocial order was exercising Velma’s brain and keeping her from cracking up.
But sometimes, Popeye worried that it wasn’t working.
This was a big worry.
Popeye needed Velma to not crack up because no one else in his family was very good at taking care of things. (6)

After a week of nonstop rain, Popeye is completely, utterly, bored in his small home in Fayette, South Carolina. So when he finds a motor home stuck in the mud with five kids inside, he sees this as a wonderful opportunity to have a small adventure with Elvis. Elvis isn’t afraid of anything, being president of the shortly lived Spit and Swear Club and swaggering around with an I don’t care attitude that Popeye would love to have too. When they find small homemade boats are being shipped down the creek with mysterious messages (“Princess. . . Queen . . . T-Bone” and “Dead dogs live here.”), Elvis and Popeye head out to investigate. They need to act quickly though, because once the roads dry out and the motor home becomes unstuck, Popeye loses his playmate and the courage to set out by himself.

Barbara O’Connor seems to excel at weaving excentric characters with out of the ordinary events and make them believable. The vocabulary lessons that Popeye has scattered throughout work well in the story, with words being definied either before or after their use in the narration, and pertaining to the events of the book. I’m reminded of I Put a Spell on You by Adam Selzer which started each chapter with a little known word, but these words aren’t just impressive long words, and kids can actually use them in conversation and sentences. Princess Starletta Rainey, who the boys meet on their travels, is a little quirky for my tastes, but she serves well as a counterpoint to Elvis’ rebelious nature and Popeye’s self-control. Paired with Popeye’s matter of fact narration, it’s a sweet read for upper elementary students, and a fun read-aloud in a classroom setting where kids can predict what happens next.

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