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The Big One-Oh

Review

The Big One-Oh

How do you describe a book that had you laughing non-stop for three chapters and enjoying off-and-on guffaws and spontaneous sniggers throughout the rest? THE BIG ONE-OH will appeal to 99.9 percent of the fourth- and fifth-grade boys who read it and, I might add, to their parents.

Charley Maplewood once went to a birthday party that included runaway ponies, shrieking kids and a smashed cake. He determined never to go to another one again. That was three-and-a-half years ago.

Charley is now approaching the big one-oh, his 10th birthday, which means he'll be be moving from single to double digits. His dad, a chef in Scotland, sends him a card and asks him what he'll be doing to celebrate. Obviously this was something that birthday-phobic Charley had not considered, but now he begins to dwell on what a birthday party could be like. Since he has no friends, who would he invite?

Charley has a few idiosyncrasies. He likes to cook and prepares gourmet meals for his mother almost every night. Rather than hanging out with kids his own age, he prefers to spend his time reading monster comic books. On the night his mother brings her boyfriend home for dinner, Charley is wearing a hairnet and making food. Is he a freak? Charley thinks he's normal, but apparently his mother's boyfriend doesn't agree.

On the other hand, Charley's neighbor appears to be a true oddball. He has fake body parts lying around for dogs to run away with. As she's leaving him, his girlfriend, "Pincushion," yells back at the house that he's too weird, that she can't take it anymore, that he has no friends, and that he's a freak.

The coincidence of having heard these thoughts twice in 24 hours convinces Charley that he should have a party and find some friends. But how?

Surprisingly, Charley and his neighbor share a few similar hobbies. They quickly become friends despite their age difference --- he's old enough to be Charley's dad. It turns out that he is a special effects man with a specialty in bloody body parts.

As Charley begins his very structured effort to plan a party for his big one-oh, I found myself unable to put the book down. I also realized that I was disturbing my household with too much laughter. "How dare you laugh out loud while reading!" You might be able to guess what the birthday party theme is, but the events that lead up to the celebration are as unpredictable as the guest list.

Author Dean Pitchford seems to have a talent for recognizing and articulating the gross-out factor that appeals to young boys, while understanding the boundary between humorous and disgusting.

On the night of the party, a neighbor is shrieking, the fire department appears with the police, and the bully dirties his pants as the pretty girls throw up. It's a classic horror birthday party, and this book is a classic waiting to be recognized by 99.9% of the country's 8- to 10-year-old boys.

Reviewed by Patsy Side on July 9, 2009

The Big One-Oh
by Dean Pitchford

  • Publication Date: July 9, 2009
  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Puffin
  • ISBN-10: 0142412929
  • ISBN-13: 9780142412923