Alvin Ho is a Chinese American second grader living in Concord, Massachusetts. At home, he enjoys being superhero Firecracker Man. His younger sister Anibelly annoys him constantly by getting in his way, his stuff and his food. His big brother Calvin often doesn’t want to be bothered. These are every day kid things.
What’s different about Alvin is all about fear. Alvin is frightened of many different things, including heights, his piano teacher, girls and school. He’s so frightened that he carries a Personal Disaster Kit with him to help with emergencies (I could not help but think of Scaredy Squirrel. When Alvin gets the most frightened, he cannot talk. He has selective mutism. He can talk at home, when he’s playing, even on the bus. When it gets to school, he can’t get out a word. Flea, a girl in Alvin’s class, has created a guide that interprets Alvin’s facial expressions for his teacher. Alvin’s inability to talk at school causes lots of problems with substitute teachers and round robin reading.
One of my favorite parts of this book is the visit in which Alvin first speaks at a therapy appointment. All he can get out are Shakespearean insults for the pscyhologist. Afterwards, Alvin and his dad both go for ice cream and reflect on their bad days.
The sketched illustrations add to the appeal of this story. There are a lot of things that Alvin is confused about in the story. Some of these seem age appropriate, but a few times I couldn’t understand why he didn’t know something, like still thinking psychologists were “psychos” when he clearly had not just started seeing her. Not getting why adding his name to an autographed ball would make it worth less felt a lot more appropriate. Some of the vocabulary and concepts in the books may be confusing to some young readers who are unfamiliar with them, so parts of this book might work better as a read-aloud. There is a glossary at the back of the book to explain some of the references throughout the book to ball players, Chinese culture and other parts of Alvin’s life.