cover image The Worm Whisperer

The Worm Whisperer

Betty Hicks, illus. by Ben Hatke. Roaring Brook, $15.99 (192p) ISBN 978-1-59643-490-5

Being funny has earned Ellis the admiration of his classmates, but the fourth-grader’s life is pretty serious at the moment. His injured father needs an operation that requires money his family doesn’t have; his mother is working constantly; and Ellis is left to handle chores and help care for his father. Because Ellis’s classmates count on him for comic relief, he doesn’t share how hard his life is. A $1,000 prize for winning the Woolly Worm (aka caterpillar) race at an annual festival in Ellis’s North Carolina town offers him a chance to solve his family’s financial problems. Ellis’s gentle ways with animals—especially his new caterpillar, Tink—are a particularly touching part of this empathic story. There are a few twists and turns, but Hicks (the Gym Shorts series) pulls the narrative threads together in a pleasing if perhaps too neat way. Hatke (Zita the Spacegirl) contributes cheerful b&w spot illustrations that bolster the value and comfort Ellis finds in family, friendship, and faith. Ages 8–12. Agent: Tracey Adams, Adams Literary. Illustrator’s agent: Judith Hansen, Hansen Literary Agency. (Jan.)