by Douglas Evans
Pictures by John Shelley
Asheville, NC: Front Street Press, 2004
I picked Douglas Evans' MVP off the bookshelf of AJ's school library on one of my volunteer days thinking a book about sports might be something he'd like. It turned out not to be a book about sports at all, but something much better. I think AJ read it 5 times at least before we took it back to the library.
MVP is an adventure story of the first order. It includes many of the elements that make AJ love a book:
• Boy protagonist
• Adventure that takes place in the "real" world (i.e., no magic/supernatural stuff)
• Word play or puzzles (in this case, lots of palindromes)
• Kids having adventures not only without parental supervision, but entirely without their parents knowledge.
• Kid conquers world! (in this case, literally as well as metaphorically)
• Silliness abounds
• So does excitement
Evans introduces his protagonist Adam Story, who narrates the story, with a classic palindrome: "Madam, I'm Adam." Palindromes permeate the book -- many of the characters have palindromic names (I'd venture to say that the palindromes seem to hint at the character's helpfulness or trustworthiness, but I haven't thoroughly checked to see if this is true throughout).
Adam is a loner, although not entirely by choice. He lives in relative poverty with his mom on the wrong side of the tracks, but attends public school in a fancier district because his mother works in the school's cafeteria. He feels isolated by his circumstances On the afternoon of his 12th birthday, while he is closing down the school's Homework Club, he is visited by a strange man in a cape who invites him on an adventure: to circumnavigate the globe in 40 days. The man reveals himself as Prince Olioli Oh XL of the kingdom of Babababad, and the producer of the Magellan Voyage Project, the organization behind the journey. Prince Oh offers to fully and generously finance the trip and to arrange it so Adam's mother doesn't even know he's gone. If he accomplishes the trip within the time frame, he will be rewarded with 4 million dollars.
Adam deliberates but eventually chooses to take the challenge. His journey introduces him to dozens of characters, some helpful, some harmful. He sees the world and gradually learns that the Magellan Voyage Project and Prince Oh himself are not quite what they seemed at first.
The story is fast-paced, exciting, clever and funny. Like any good adventure story there are lots of twists and turns, but the protagonist triumphs in the end. Its only weakness is that in prioritizing plot and pacing, character development gets short shrift. I would have liked a little more depth in the characters we spend the most time with, particularly Adam and one of his fellow travelers, Meredith. But overall, this is an excellent book for for elementary-middle school readers (and their parents). It's also very well suited to younger advanced readers like AJ. It's adventurous, but not too scary, and all subject matter is totally appropriate for younger readers. And the cartoonish line drawings throughout the book are engaging. AJ, Mr. Spy and I all loved it. And we are certainly not alone -- MVP was one of the nominees for the 2008 Rebecca Caudill award for Young Readers in our home state of Illinois.
As a parent and educator, I'd also add that there is a lot of potential for educational tie-ins. AJ read up on the countries the character passed through. We followed Adam's journey on a globe. AJ planned his own around the world routes, using maps and internet sites, just like Adam did. We will definitely be checking out Evans' other books and as for MVP, we're all hoping for a sequel.