Matt and I love Carl Hiassen's books. A friend introduced Matt to them years ago, and I started reading them soon after. Now we wait for the next one to be published. He is a native Floridian who writes about the eccentricities of his state. His oddball characters make you cringe and laugh, but if you have lived in Florida long enough they also remind you of someone you know. His satires often target the many threats to Florida's natural environment and are witty and irreverent.
About a decade ago Hiassen started writing children's fiction. As a huge fan of his adult work, and as a children's librarian, I have to admit that I was not happy when his first children's book, Hoot, was published, and even less happy when it won a prestigious Newbery Honor. It was around the time when the Harry Potter craze was at a peak and many adult and celebrity authors were cashing in on the suddenly lucrative children's book market. I read his first effort and was less than impressed. It felt watered down -- like he had taken a plot for an adult novel and forced it into a framework for a children's book, removing the foul language, sex and violence that are found in his other books.
Okay, I was wrong. I was just a cynical fan and a suspicious children's librarian who questioned why he was all of a sudden writing for children. Hiassen's kid's books are really pretty good. They still have the quirky, Florida characters, the environmental threats, and the craziness that is Florida. And they are not dumbed down for kids -- they are just cleaned up a little.
I decided a couple of weeks ago that it was time to introduce Isaac to Carl Hiassen, so we began reading Hoot at bedtime. It was a family effort. Matt read a couple of chapters a night while Isaac and I listened. In the book, a shoeless, but fleet of foot, runaway boy is sabotaging a restaurant chain's efforts to build on a vacant lot which also happens to be home to nesting pairs of protected burrowing owls. He is joined by his step-sister and a new-to-the-neighborhood-via-Montana boy who realizes in the book that, though there are no mountains, the Florida environment is awash with variety and beauty.
There are the typical Hiassen characters -- the bumbling cop, the corrupt businessman, the brawny hired thug, the less-than-smart bully, the vacuous blond actress, the wily activist, and the accidental hero. And Florida itself -- with its gators, poisonous snakes, swamps and thunderstorms. And unlike many books written for children, there is not a nicely wrapped happy ending. The owls are saved but the runaway boy does not return to the family fold which is made happy and whole again. Life is not perfect.
Isaac loved Hoot. He made sure we read it each night, and the night before he and Matt left to go on a camping trip, he asked if we could stay up late to finish it. So we did. Then he checked Scat out of the school library to try and read on his own and Matt bought a recorded copy of Chomp for them to listen to on their trip. Isaac is North Carolina born, but he knows his Florida roots. And now he has joined the Carl Hiassen fan club. Indoctrination at its best.