The Dancing Pancake is the restaurant Bindi’s mother and aunt open after her parents separate and her father has left the house. It requires Bindi and her mother to move into the apartment above the new restaurant; the restaurant, however, is still in their town so it doesn’t require Bindi to change schools or move away from any of her friends.
Written in Spinelli’s trademark free verse, there are some great characters in The Dancing Pancake: Bindi’s friend Albert who is obsessed with bugs, Grace, the homeless woman who frequents the restaurant and Jackson, Bindi’s irrepressible, much younger cousin. Spinelli does a good job of establishing Bindi’s voice and her dilemma–one that is all too common for so many children stuck in the powerless, confusing middle of their parents’ separation or divorce. Bindi’s voice in the first third of the book is genuine and easily identifiable for young readers.
The problem with the book is that it tries to be too many things and consequently ends up succeeding at none of them. It winds up being just an OK story for Bindi–you stop caring about Bindi’s character after the first third of the book because the homeless character of Grace enters the picture and all of a sudden you get a lot of details about Grace’s appearance and outward behavior, but no deep insights. The author lets go of the deeper connection with Bindi to write in the “regulars” at the restaurant and never quite recovers it to the level where it started. As a reader I tried to follow where the author was leading me but I just got lost and ended up feeling dissatisfied with the plot resolution for Bindi and lack of resolution to so many other characters.
I like Spinelli’s work in general, but I would recommend, instead, her work Where I Live, also written in free verse and much more effective in telling a compelling story about Diana, a young girl who is forced to move from where she LOVES living to a completely new place. It explores anxieties, new friendships and the premise that all change is scary, but isn’t necessarily undesirable: all opportunities require courage and the rewards are tenfold!
If you are interested in the subject of The Dancing Pancake: dealing with separation of parents, I recommend instead Patricia MacLachlan’s Waiting For the Magic. The main character is a 4th Grade boy named William and the catalyst for healing and understanding are 4 dogs and a cat.