Hoot by Carl Hiaasen

  • Title: Hoot
  • Author: Carl Hiaasen
  • Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
  • Year Published: 2002
  • ISBN: 0375821813
  • List Price: $15.95
  • Page Count: 304
  • Age Range: 10-14
  • Genre: realistic fiction
  • Award(s): Newbery Honor Book; more here.

Author information: Carl Hiaasen has written books for readers of all ages, including five titles for children and his recently released YA debut novel. His website includes his biography, lists of titles for both youth and adults, and links and contact information. He also has a dedicated webpage for children, which includes videos, reading guides, and excerpts from his titles. In an interview with The Guardian, Hiaasen talks about his writing (mostly his adult works) and says of his creative choices: “My humour has always come from anger, but I have to make sure I don’t just get angry and jump on a soapbox”. This can be seen in his approach to environmental destruction and preservation in Hoot.

Reviews: School Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, and Booklist all gave this title favorable reviews. They agree that Hiaasen has created a quirky and memorable set of characters and that the book sends a positive message to young readers about the importance of preserving the environment. The reviews also mention Hiaasen’s humor; Booklist says “Hiaasen never lets the formula get in his way; the story is full of offbeat humor, buffoonish yet charming supporting characters, and genuinely touching scenes of children enjoying the wildness of nature”.

Readers annotation: How far would you go for a cause you believe in?

Summary: Roy is the new kid in his Florida town, but he’s used to it. His family moves around a lot because of his dad’s job, and Roy is not surprised when he immediately becomes the target for the school bully, Dana. When Dana is tormenting him on the bus, Roy notices a strange, barefoot boy running in the opposite direction of the school. He is determined to find out more about this strange boy, and his search leads him to his first Florida friend, tough girl Beatrice. The running boy, also known as Mullet Fingers, is Beatrice’s brother, and he has discovered that a pancake restaurant chain, Mother Paula’s, plans to construct a new building on a piece of land that an endangered owl species lives on. Mullet Fingers uses a series of tricks, such as dumping alligators in the porta-potties and uprooting construction stakes, in order to stall construction, but this turns out to be a dangerous game. After he gets bitten by guard dogs, Roy decides to join the fight to protect the owls. He stages a protest on the day Mother Paula’s planned to break ground, and, with the help of Beatrice, Mullet Fingers, his classmates, and his family, he is able to save the owls.

Evaluation: Hoot is a charming, funny book with a positive message for young readers. From the first chapter of the novel, Hiaasen builds suspense and creates mysteries that the reader wants to solve as badly as the protagonist, such as the identity of the strange running boy and the culprit and motivation behind the pranks at the lot where the new Mother Paula’s restaurant will be built. These questions keep the reader’s attention, drawing him into an environmental mystery and advocacy tale. Interspersed with the major plotline is the story of how Roy deals with being the new kid at school and his interactions with bullies and his struggles to make friends. This will resonate with any child who has ever felt left out or lonely, and makes Roy a sympathetic protagonist. The ending is predictable–it’s obvious from early on in the novel that Roy and his friends will succeed in saving the owl habitat and that the evil Mother Paula corporation will lose their battle to build a new pancake house, but there is enough humor and heart in the novel that the reader forgives Hiaasen for the obvious ending. This novel, more than most written for this age group, does a great job of asking children to examine how they treat their environment and what steps they can take to protect the world around them.

Rating and appeal factors:

  1. Quality: 4/5  This book is funny and has a strong narrative voice, making it an easy and entertaining read. The plot is obvious and most readers will be able to figure out the ending quickly, but the book is full of enough twists and moments of suspense to redeem the book’s obvious ending.
  • Popularity: 4/5 This would be a good pick for reluctant readers. The plot moves quickly, Roy is a likeable protagonist, humor abounds in Roy’s interactions with Dana, the bully, as well as the hi-jinks that occur at the construction site, and it has a satisfying conclusion with a positive message.
  • Appeal factors: environmental activism and preservation, owls, making friends, happy ending.

Read-alikes: 

  1. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly, could be a good suggestion for readers who liked the environmental aspect of this book. The main character, Callie, learns about the natural world in her own backyard with her grandfather, a naturalist, who she develops a close relationship with.
  2. For readers who enjoyed the mystery element of Hoot, Barbara Ware Holmes’ Following Fake Man may be a good fit. Set in a similarly scenic part of the United States, Holmes’ novel also shares themes of friendship and self-discovery with Hoot, as the protagonist tries to learn more about his dead father.

Book talk ideas: Start the book talk by giving teasers about the plot, without revealing too much. Talk about different engaging aspects of the story, such as the mysterious running boy, frequent and unexplained destruction at a construction site, and a vicious bully named Dana. Talk about the fact that all of these seemingly different elements come together in an ecological suspense novel that will make readers think about their own lives and actions.

Discussion questions/ideas:

  1. What does Roy’s relationship with his parents look like? How does this differ from Beatrice’s relationship with her father and stepmother? What about Dana and his parents?
  2. When the novel starts, Roy feels like he doesn’t belong in Florida. How and why does this change by the end of the book?
  3. How does Roy deal with Dana, the bully? What are other ways he could have approached the situation?
  4. What are ways you can make a positive difference in your environment?

Reason for reading: This is another book that I read solely because I liked the cover. I saw it on a few lists of Newbery books and liked the simplicity, and dare I say, cuteness of the cover. I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it, as realistic fiction usually isn’t my favorite genre in youth literature, but I thought it was a good opportunity to get out of my comfort zone and read something different.

 

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