Set in rural Georgia in a time before television, Barbara O’Connor’s The Fantastic Secret of Owen Jester is a kid-centered story of summertime fun. When his father loses his job in a hardware store, Owen Jester and his family are forced to move across town into his grandfather’s house. Owen is “a master of evasion” who does his best every day to escape Earlene, his ailing grandfather’s grumpy, no-nonsense housekeeper.
The highlight of Owen’s summer so far has been the capture of Tooley, “the biggest, greenest, slimiest, most beautiful bullfrog ever to be seen in Carter, Georgia.” Along with his best pals Travis and Stumpy, Owen schemes to find Tooley the best insects and build the best frog cage so he won’t escape. The boy’s summer takes a thrilling turn when in the woods behind his house he discovers a Water Wonder 4000, a two-person submarine.
Caring for a bullfrog and trying to figure out how to move the submarine to the nearest pond is hard enough, but when Viola, Owen’s nosy next-door neighbor, uncovers his secret, his mission intensifies. Who would think a girl, especially one who’s “allergic to pine and grass and dust and dogs and just about every good thing in life,” would know anything about frogs or submarines? But Viola seems to know “everything about everything,” and when she threatens to tattle to authority figures, the boys are forced to include her in their adventures.
With a quiet sensitivity, O’Connor explores the effects of unemployment and relocating and the joys of both longtime companions and new, unexpected friendships. Filled with charm and wonder, this finely crafted novel reminds readers of the mysteries to be found in childhood and the outdoors.
Copyright 2010 BookPage Reviews.
"The short, sad life of Tooley Graham was over," doesn't sound like a happy conclusion but is pitch perfect in this short, simple and endearing middle-grade novel that follows on the heels of The Small Adeventure of Popeye and Elvis (2009). Owen Jester is focused on several things during his summer vacation: finding a way to keep his trapped "pet" bullfrog alive and happy, locating what fell off a train with a loud crash! one night and keeping annoying next-door neighbor Viola—who knows everything—out of their business as he schemes with his two best friends, Stumpy and Travis. The discovery of a sleek, red two-person submarine in the brush alongside the tracks changes everything. Can three young, girl-hating boys and a willing and very able—and tolerant--girl move a submarine to Graham Pond? If they manage that, will they ever be able to pilot it? In the heat of a languid Georgia summer vacation, in the dreams of irrepressible youth, anything is possible. O'Connor has spun a lovely read that perfectly captures the schemes and plans of school-age kids in the long days of summer. (Fiction. 8-11)Copyright Kirkus 2010 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
"Owen Jester tiptoed across the gleaming linoleum floor and slipped the frog into the soup." This opening line, like much of O'Connor's storytelling, strikes with lightning-fast characterization. Owen is a lovable troublemaker, whose prank involves his new catch, Tooley, "the biggest, greenest, slimiest, most beautiful bullfrog ever to be seen in Carter, Georgia." The main plot is Owen's discovery of the Water Wonder 4000, a two-person submarine that has fallen from a passing train. A gentle, old-fashioned adventure unfolds, as Owen and his friends scheme to keep the sub under the radar of adults--and neighborhood know-it-all Viola. As with O'Connor's The Small Adventures of Popeye and Elvis, this is the sweet stuff that children's summer days are made of (or used to be)--crafting grandiose plans, dodging adults' watchful eyes, and navigating the choppy waters of friendship. A rift occurs as Owen is torn between his Viola-hating friends and this helpful girl whose "irritating voice slithered up... and circled around Owen." O'Connor's funny, triumphant tale reveals the wisdom of listening to one's inner voice over the noise of one's peers. Ages 8-12. (Sept.)[Page ]. Copyright 2010 Reed Business Information.
Gr 4-7--This well-crafted novel creates a charming mix of the commonplace and the extraordinary. On summer break, the likably mischievous Owen Jester has caught the biggest, best bullfrog in Carter, GA. However, "Tooley Graham" isn't healthy, saddling Owen with a nagging guilt about keeping his new pet captive. Meanwhile, after hearing a crash in the night, the boy discovers that a Water Wonder 4000--a two-passenger submarine that has fallen off a passing train. He tries to keep his secret from everyone but his friends, but nosy neighbor Viola isn't easily fooled. When she discovers the sub, the only way to keep her from alerting grown-ups is to let her in on the plan to take it for a spin. But there are problems. How will they move the heavy sub to the pond? Can they figure out how to drive it? And most importantly, how can Owen and his friends work with their archenemy? The plot is straightforward and efficient; the focus is always clear. Characterization is a strength--particularly memorable is Viola, who steals the show as an honest-to-goodness know-it-all. O'Connor deftly leads readers to ponder some big questions about friendship and disrupting the natural order. Beyond pleasure reading, the story lends itself nicely to use in a classroom setting. Appealing and authentic, this tale of summertime adventure will be a hit with readers year round.--Travis Jonker, Dorr Elementary School, MI[Page 124]. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.