Zero to Hero is the first book in the new Ghost Buddy series by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver (who are also partners in the Hank Zipzer series). When 11-year-old Billy Broccoli (go ahead, make whatever joke you feel compelled to make) moves into an old house with his new step-family, he quickly learns that he'll be sharing his room with a ghost.
Fourteen-year-old Hoover Porterhouse the Third, 99 years dead, is on probation. According to the higher-ups, he has one more year in which to improve his scores in Responsibility and Helping Others, or else. Meanwhile, Hoove isn't allowed to leave the original boundaries of his family's ranchero. He is, however, strongly encouraged to help Billy Broccoli. And Billy, who is starting a new middle school, and lacks even an ounce of coolness, can definitely use the help.
What follows is part buddy-story, part middle-school makeover tale, and part "how will we triumph over the neighborhood bully?" adventure. Although Billy is in middle school, Zero to Hero appears to be aimed more at 8-10 year olds. There aren't illustrations in the book, and the vocabulary is reasonably advanced, but there's still a younger feel to the story (helped out by the occasional pun). Here are a couple of examples:
"Billy was relieved, because he was not a guy who loved danger. At the top of his list of least favorite things were scary movies, bumpy airplane rides, bungee jumping, roller coasters, creepy or sad clowns, and anything that popped up at him. As a matter of fact, when he was five and a half, he'd smashed his jack-in-the-box to bits with his slipper." (Page 18)
"The thumping sounds of five girls playing the bass all at once streamed out of the basement window and hung in the air around the Hoove's tree. He covered his ears to block out the sound, but didn't do any good because his hands had no matter to them. They just didn't matter." (Page 75)
""Oh, sorry," he started to say, until he realized it was Ruby Baker, the girl with the bouncing blond ponytail who had witnessed not one, but two of the most embarrassing moments of his entire life. Billy realized that this was a perfect opportunity to create a different impression on her, and he racked his brain for something to say. Ruby beat him to it." (Page 77)
Ghost Buddy #1: Zero to Hero is not a literary novel. The characters tend toward stereotypes (particularly Billy's parents and stepsister). The setting is only lightly sketched in. There's a bit more telling vs. showing than one might prefer. However, Zero to Hero is highly kid-friendly. Billy is relatable, in all his insecurities and mis-steps. Hoove's ghostly pranks are funny, and especially likely to appeal to boys. Zero to Hero reminds me a bit of Jordan Sonnenblick's Dodger series (see my reviews of Dodger and Me and Dodger for President), though not quite so over-the-top.
I think that the Ghost Buddy books will be a must-purchase series for elementary school libraries. For one thing, they'll give kids who enjoyed the Hank Zipzer series something new to try. And for another, they are a fun, boy-focused series with reluctant reader appeal. Book 2 comes out July 1st. Kids will be waiting.
Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic)
Publication Date: January 1, 2012
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher
© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).