The Big Bazoohleylel

Peter Carey, Author, Abira Ali, Illustrator, Abira Ali, Photographer Henry Holt & Company $14.95 (135p) ISBN 978-0-8050-3855-2
A mansion that can be entered only from a disguised door on a subway platform; impossibly detailed paintings that can fit inside a matchbox; an opulent hotel filled with snooty guests; a squadron of fiendishly well-kempt children competing for the title of Perfecto Kiddo-the Booker Prize-winning author of Oscar and Lucinda stuffs his first children's book with a lavish complement of elements that, while improbable, are so enticing or so funny that readers will wish they were true. At the center of this outlandish world is one Sam Kellow, an Everyboy whose sheer normalcy provides ample ballast for the eccentricities of the plot. He and his parents have flown to Toronto on a mission: Sam's artist mother will deliver one of the aforesaid miniatures to a tycoon at the aforesaid mansion and collect her pay-what Sam's high-rolling father calls ``the Big Bazoohley'' (``which meant the Big Win, the Big Prize, the Jackpot''). But the Kellows can't find the entrance, and they are down to their last few dollars. Seeking a way to raise some quick money, Sam is essentially kidnapped by the lunatic parents of a kid with chicken pox, who groom Sam within an inch of his life and enter him under their son's name in the Perfecto Kiddo contest (grand prize: $10,000). They plan to pocket the winnings; Sam, of course, has his own ideas. Carey combines daring exaggeration with cozily wrought details for an exquisitely balanced comedy. He lampoons the familiar and dreams up delectable satires. One of the Perfecto Kiddo contest events, for example, involves eating four-foot-long strands of spaghetti in tomato sauce; points are deducted for every drop that gets splattered. We know all along that Sam will win the contest and get the loot, and that his parents will hook up with the missing zillionaire-the urgency here is generated not by suspense about the outcome but by the strength of the reader's desire for a happy ending. This novel is so full of pleasures that readers, along with the characters, receive a swell payoff-start to finish, it's one Big Bazoohley of a book. Ages 9-12. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 09/04/1995
Release date: 09/01/1995
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