Book Review: Hoot by Carl Hiaasen
Perhaps you’re familiar with Carl Hiaasen’s smart-ass, Florida-centric books for grown-ups — all 22 of them! — that include bestsellers such as Strip Tease, Nature Girl, Star Island, and Skinny Dip. But the way this author found his way into my heart was through his books for kids, now totaling four — and here’s hoping there are many more to come!
Hoot was Carl Hiaasen’s first book for kids, aimed at the middle school crowd and featuring some fun, fearless, and memorable characters with just enough gross-outs and goof-ball mischief to appeal to 10 to 13-year-olds. Hoot certainly appealed to my 11-year-old, who isn’t the easiest kid to please when it comes to books. (Video games are a different matter, but I digress.)
In his younger days — oh, say at age 10 — my kiddo would help me out on my blog from time to time with “Q&A with the Kiddo” posts, where I’d write about books that we’d read together, ask him questions, and then share some thoughts from each of us. Alas, now that he’s reached the ripe old age of 11, he’s no longer willing to indulge me. Luckily, though, he still enjoys a good book, and has not yet decided that he’s too old for a read-aloud at bed time. So for as long as he’ll let me, I continue reading him a chapter or two once he’s tucked in (knowing that our days of reading together are probably numbered, although I’ve told him more than once than I’ll come to college with him if he wants).
Hoot is our most recent reading adventure, and it was a big success. We’d thoroughly enjoyed the author’s most recent kids’ book, Chomp, last year (my review is here), and reading Hoot was actually the kiddo’s idea — he’d seen part of the movie at his after school program recently, and wanted to know the rest of the story.
So what’s it about? In a nutshell: Roy Eberhardt moves to Florida from Montana when his dad gets reassigned for work, and boy, is Roy unhappy about being the new kid all over again. After getting bullied by the meanest kid in school, he encounters a mysterious barefoot boy running down the street, and quickly becomes fascinated by figuring out who the kid is and why he’s running. Meanwhile, Mother Paula’s Pancake House is about to open a new franchise location in Roy’s small town… but someone keeps playing pranks and causing mischief at the construction site, and the Mother Paula’s people are not happy about it. The storylines come together as Roy and his new friends Beatrice Leep and Mullet Fingers try to find a way to save the rare burrowing owls who live at the construction site before the bulldozers start to roll. Hoot is filled with a host of amusing supporting characters, from the well-intentioned but bumbling Officer Delinko to construction manager Curly to the oozily nasty corporate tool Chuck E. Muckle. As the various plotlines and people converge, Carl Hiaasen doesn’t skimp on humor, pranks, or bizarre human behavior.
In both Hoot and Chomp, a dominant theme is the natural wonders of Florida and how greedy humans are encroaching on natural habitats. In both books, the author’s love for nature shines through, and the kids who are heroes are the ones who stand up and fight against the careless, thoughtless, or just plain mean grown-ups who value money over beauty. While the main characters in both books come from homes with supportive and loving parents, the author doesn’t shy away from showcasing kids who come from troubled homes or less wholesome environments. One of the things he does best is dig beneath the surface and show why a kid might be weird, or dressed funny, or be reluctant to trust or share secrets. At the same time, no mercy is shown to the bullies, whether kids or adults: The characters who mistreat others, who are mean and nasty, who like to hurt people for their own glory, or who just don’t care — well, they do tend to get what’s coming to them, and then some.
After reading the book, kiddo and I decided to watch the movie as well — and while I almost never, ever, ever say this, in this case I’ll admit to liking the movie just a smidge more than the book. The book was great, don’t get me wrong — but the movie just did a better job of showing the natural beauty of the Florida coastlines and waterways, as well as the vulnerability of the little owls (awwwww… baby owls!) being threatened by the big construction machinery. This is one instance where a picture really is worth a thousand words, because the one thing I really didn’t get from the book was enough description of the construction site and the landscape, and that made it harder to visualize the nature of the threat. The movie is mostly faithful to the book, up until the ending — where again, I have to admit that I found the movie ending a bit more exciting and dramatic than the final confrontation and big finale in the book.
The cast was very good, with a young Logan Lerman in the role of Roy, and a nice cameo by Jimmy Buffett as well. Plus, the geek in me and my kiddo (call us Mama Geek and Geek Junior, I suppose) did a little happy dance when Clark Gregg (Agent Coulson!) appeared in the sleazy role of corporate bad guy Chuck Muckle.
Should you read the book or watch the movie?
Yes to both! Why choose?
Meanwhile, I have no hesitation about recommending this author’s books for kids. Carl Hiaasen’s writing is funny and fast-paced, with strong messages about family connections, loyalty, and respect for the environment. I can pretty much guarantee that kids will love these books, and their parents will too.
Author: Carl Hiaasen
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Publication date: 2002
Genre: Middle grade