cover image CITY OF NAMES


Kevin Brockmeier, Kevin Brockenmeier, . . Viking, $15.99 (128pp) ISBN 978-0-670-03565-6

An order-fulfillment snafu affords the offbeat premise for this children's book debut. When fifth-grader Howie Quackenbush orders 101 Pickle Jokes from his school book club, he instead receives Secret Guide to North Mellwood. The book opens up into a map identifying the "true names" of various buildings and sites in Howie's hometown, and identifies five "portals" through which the initiated can travel to other Mellwood locations. Conveniently, one of the portals—a bronze statue of Larry Boone, allegedly a Revolutionary War hero—is located in front of the boy's school. Howie's second attempt at ordering the joke book brings an addendum to the secret guide, providing access to some hidden underground spots. In the conclusion, Howie enters the underground Hall of Babies, where he meets his unborn sister and learns her true name; when his mother gives birth the following day, Howie ends months of debate by naming the baby. Unfortunately, digressions and dull dialogue may discourage readers, and while the contrivances are clever, the author fails to use them to exciting or meaningful effect. Ages 8-12. (May)