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6 April 2023 THE GREATEST KID IN THE WORLD by John David Anderson, HarperCollins/Walden Pond Press, May 2023, 368p., ISBN: 978-0-06-298603-0


“I tell you life is sweet

In spite of the misery

There's so much more

Be grateful”

– Natalie Merchant (1998)


“Zeke’s letter informing him that he might be the greatest kid in the world came while his brother was baking in the driveway.

It was a slow process, even with the yards of aluminum foil Zeke had wrapped around Nate’s scrawny frame. He’d emptied the whole box–enough foil to wallpaper the living room, making his little brother look like the world’s very first Reynolds Wrap mummy. The sky was spotty with clouds, the sun peaking through and glinting off the metallic statue of Nathan Stahls standing with his arms straight out like a scarecrow.

‘Do I have superpowers yet?’ Nate murmured from the hole Zeke had poked with a butter knife close to where he assumed his brother’s mouth should be.

‘Not yet,’ Zeke said. ‘Patience. It will happen when it happens.’

Or not. Zeke thought, but it had been important to tell Nate something. If Zeke had said I want to wrap you up in aluminum foil and stick you out in the sun and see what happens, Nate might have balked at the idea. So instead, Zeke put on his straightest face (much practiced, nearly perfected) and said, ‘I learned in science class that if you can find a way to harness the energy of the sun, it can give you superpowers.’”


Oh. My. Gosh! From that opening passage onward, this book is beyond hysterical! Page after page, Zeke’s schemes and musings had me in stitches. There were stretches when my entire rib cage ached from laughing so hard and so often. 


And then, the tale turned a corner and made me sob.


Oftentimes, I am moved to write about a book because it contains underlying issues or concepts that I think are essential for young people to read about. Engaging books that help kids see beyond their parent’s hell, beyond the bs and prejudices too often dished out by ignorant adults, social media posters, or bullies. Books that positively depict diversity and can sometimes even save a life.


And there are times that I am excited to write about a book because it’s so much fun, so meaningful and memorable, that it can readily contribute to kids developing serious reading addictions. THE GREATEST KID IN THE WORLD is this sort of book. 


Zeke Stahls is a good-hearted but mischievous young man who comes up with some pretty wacky schemes. His mother is sick of having to come to school and talk to the principal about what he’s done now. 


Mom is struggling financially and emotionally as a single mom. Why Zeke’s dad is no longer in the picture is one of the mysteries of this book. But the biggest mystery is why Zeke would get picked as one of five kids from around the U.S. to participate in a “Greatest Kid in the World” contest. Everyone–including Zeke–is mystified as to how some computer algorithm has chosen him as one of those five finalists. 


Each of the finalists is to be videotaped over several days. The daily footage will be edited down and posted online, and the public will then cast daily votes for the contestant they support for winning the Greatest Kid title, along with the grand prize of $10,000 and a family trip to Hawaii. 


A standout tween read, THE GREATEST KID IN THE WORLD is the coming-of-age story of Zeke’s week in the spotlight. It's a powerful, moving, and laugh-aloud tale of an inventive young man in a dysfunctional family that is teetering on the edge. I don’t want to give away any more of the events that transpire over that week, but man, oh man this is absolutely one not to miss.


Richie Partington, MLIS

Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.pbworks.com





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