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BOOK REVIEWS, Contemporary Realistic Fiction, Middle Grade Readers, Read-Aloud Suggestions, Teacher & Parent Recommendations

MR. CHICKEE’S FUNNY MONEY by Christopher Paul Curtis

A 250-foot drop over a dam, a friend who does not surface at the bottom and a dozen federal agents in dark suits holding what look like satellite ray guns…this is how Mr. Chickee’s Funny Money begins.

An exciting beginning leads to a story told in flashback by the narrator: fourth grader, Steven.  He is joined in his Flint Future Detectives Club by his hilarious and oversize 7-year-old neighbor and best friend, Rufus and Rufus’ equally oversized and hilarious dog, Zoopy.

Steven is a marvelous narrator and his frustration with his parents’–especially his father’s–inability to meet him intellectually in his investigative processes will appeal to every kid who reads the book.  I certainly recognized shades of my own father when Steven’s dad tells him to “go look it up,” and “think” and “figure it out.”  Steven’s slightly sarcastic responses–only in his head, since to say them aloud would be “sass”–are funny and genuine.

The story rides a wonderful line between silliness and adventure when Steven is given a quadrillion dollar bill by his friend Mr. Chickee.  He must puzzle out exactly the right thing to do with it.  Is it real?  Who else wants to get ahold of it and why?

One of the characters my children and I enjoyed most (this was a bedtime read for us) is Steven’s Great-great-Grampa Carter’s dictionary.  The dictionary, the very same one his father often sends him to in order to “look it up,” rearranges its letters on the copyright page to spell out insulting messages to Steven every time he opens it.  The first such message he discovers is “Why are looking at this page?  You’re not a librarian!”

Known for his award-winning novels such as The Watsons Go To Birmingham, Bud, Not Buddy, and Elijah of Buxton,  this story is somewhat of a departure in style and theme for Curtis in its rich fountain of humor seamlessly interwoven in the engaging adventure aspects of the story.  It is, however, equal in its content and plot.  I highly recommend it for ages 7-10.  It is now on my list as a possible read-aloud choice in the classroom and my children loved it at bedtime!


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