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Book Reviews, Contemporary Realistic Fiction, Early/Young Readers, Middle Grade Readers, Read-Aloud Suggestions, Teacher & Parent Recommendations

CHEESIE MACK IS NOT A GENIUS OR ANYTHING by Steve Cotler

Cheesie Mack is Not a Genius or Anything is the first book in a new series by author/performer Steve Cotler.  (The second book is due out in June, 2012).  The story is “written” by Ronald Mack, a fifth grader whose friends call him Cheesie.

The story happens in the last few days of fifth grade.  Cheesie’s best friend, Georgie, has a gazillion wonderful ideas about how they could make their fifth grade graduation ceremony less boring.  Cheesie doesn’t think they will actually commit to any of Georgie’s ideas–until Georgie gets a free bag of mice from the pet store.  (Yes, I said “a free bag of mice.”)

In true fifth grade style, the prank goes horribly wrong, causing Cheesie & George to suffer through the boredom of graduation AND get in a lot of trouble.  When their summer plans to have a blast at their traditional camp are derailed by Georgie’s not being able to go, Cheesie decides to forego camp as well and spend the summer at home with his best friend.  These plans are also destined to go awry later in the story.

In the meantime Cheesie and Georgie find, have a misunderstanding and experience a moral dilemma over a valuable old coin and a mysterious elderly neighbor who lives in a creepy old house they call “The Toad.”  Throw in an encounter with the police and a bossy older sister and you have a hometown adventure worth the read.

A unique element to the story which is first intriguing, then increasingly irritating to the reader is Cheesie Mack’s website.  Cheesie Mack has his own website (CheesieMack.com–it’s a REAL website).  He refers to his website a LOT in the book, telling readers to visit the site and comment on different aspects of Cheesie’s story and–because Cheesie loves lists–to contribute to the various lists on the website (including grandparent nicknames and goofy made-up words).

The references to the website within the story become annoying, as they happen every couple of pages.  I have to preface my opinion on this by saying it could be because I read the book as an adult, but I started to become suspicious of the number of times the author told readers (mostly kids) to go to his website.  Additionally, I felt it interrupted–instead of enhanced–the story of Cheesie Mack the way it could have if it was mentioned less.

Having said all that, I did visit the website to get an accurate and well-informed perspective.  The website is a great one for kids.  It does give them a place to talk about the story.  And Steve Cotler responds frequently to the comments and questions posed by young readers.  This, just by itself, is a wonderful opportunity! The website also has a lot of fun facts and can easily be used as a springboard for kids’ curiosity–which is what I believe the author intends.

Not simple in its plotting, Cheesie Mack is G-rated in language and content which makes it a fun read-aloud at home or in the classroom for 2nd-6th graders.  This book is a great opportunity for the reader to become engaged in or celebrate curiosity and fun!

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