The podcast version of this book review can be found here.
When Bethlehem Books was having their big summer sale, I combed through their catalog for books that would captivate my reluctant boy reader. My nine-year-old son is a much better reader than he gives himself credit for, but he is easily intimidated by long or text-heavy books. I knew that Bethlehem Books would have some books that would be appealing to boy interests, be short enough to not be terribly intimidating, and potentially have some illustration to aid the reader. Good Old Archibald was highlighted in their catalog as being just such a book. Absolutely wholesome but totally hilarious it was enjoyed by everyone in our family!
I purchased Good Old Archibald to put in my son’s independent reading basket. I thought that to get him interested I would read a chapter or two aloud and then put it in the basket in the hopes that he would go to it himself. A funny thing happened, however. No one was content for me to put it down – including myself. Good Old Archibald started off with some engaging humor and an intriguing story line. Within two chapters were we on the hook. Within five chapters we were finding excuses to pick it up whenever we could and sneak in a few more pages.
If you were to take Cheaper By the Dozen (book or original movie) and merge it with a more wholesome version of The Sandlot into a book for middle grade readers, you would get something like Good Old Archibald. Set in mid 20th century Middle America, it has a timeless small town feel, a huge boyish family with endearing parents, a smart and sweet great aunt, a baseball subplot, and a happy ending. The story is very predictable in some places and quite unexpected in others. A little Frindle, a little Homer Price, a lot Henry Huggins, and all delightful, it is ideal for the middle school boy crowd or a family read aloud. The principle characters are in 5th and 6th grades.
Ethelyn Parkinson, the author, is from Oconto, Wisconsin which is just 30 minutes from our home. It was no leap at all for us to see that she was writing about 1950s Green Bay, Wisconsin. For us, it was a delightful series of rabbit trails to see how she got her names for things. For example, in one scene the boys are going to Sensenbrenner Grocery. Probably no one but a local would know that Sensenbrenner is an important name. Frank J Sensenbrenner (1864-1952) was a major player in the paper industry that defined northeast Wisconsin economy for a century. What is interesting is that Sensenbrenner’s first job as a teen was in a grocery store. Parkinson was clever!
At the opening of our story, good old Ralph, the star of the baseball team and an all-around good guy has left their economically depressed town just a few weeks before their annual rivalry baseball game. The new kid, Archibald, is the exact antithesis of good old Ralph. Ralph’s family moved due to lack of industry in the town. Archibald has moved to town to live with his great aunt while his mother is in long term medical care and his wealthy father is out scouting locations for a new factory. Ralph arrives at school in “best” clothes, a gold watch, and highbrow manners and vocabulary. When Archibald occupies “Good Old Ralph’s” seat, the boys of the sixth grade class are distraught.
The story is classically boy: wrestling in the backyard, sliding down clothing chutes, and lots and lots of baseball. This girl and my daughter, however, loved it just the same.