BookBrowse Reviews Hokey Pokey by Jerry Spinelli

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Hokey Pokey

by Jerry Spinelli

Hokey Pokey by Jerry Spinelli X
Hokey Pokey by Jerry Spinelli
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jan 2013, 304 pages
    Apr 2014, 320 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Tamara Ellis Smith
Buy This Book

About this Book



Jerry Spinelli uses the vibrant make-believe world of Hokey Pokey to shine a light on childhood's triumphs and tribulations.

The land of Hokey Pokey is unlike any other. It is inhabited by kids, only kids, not a grown-up in sight. Well, except for the Hokey Pokey man, who arrives daily, to dish out flavored ice to everyone.

Here, a first-day Newbie pops out of the Tattooer after having exchanged his diaper for a brand-new tattoo. He looks for the first Big Kid he can find and shows off the barely dry ink art on his belly. The pairing of the Newbie and the Big Kid is "instinct for the Newbie – duty for the Big Kid." Before the first day ends, the Big Kid must show the Newbie the ropes; he must impart the four rules of Hokey Pokey:

  1. Never pass a puddle without stomping in it.
  2. Never go to sleep until the last minute.
  3. Never go near Forbidden Hut.
  4. Never kiss a girl. (Or boy, depending on who the Newbie is).

Jack is the biggest of the Big Kids. He is known throughout Hokey Pokey – revered by every boy in the land and sufficiently hated by the girls his age. His posse, LaJo and Dusty, and he, make up the Three Amigos, and they go everywhere together. From the Great Plains where a band of wild bikes (yes, bikes!) roam, to the steep terrain of Gorilla Hill, to The Forbidden Hut, which is on its own island past the jungle and the sandy creek beach.

On the day Hokey Pokey begins, Jack wakes up and, before he even opens his eyes, he knows something is wrong. This feeling is confirmed when he looks next to him and sees that his trusty bike, ScramJet, is missing. Missing! And he knows just who took it. Jubilee – the girl Jack hates more than any other.

What follows is a beautifully crafted account of this one life-changing day. Jerry Spinelli alternates voices in Hokey Pokey – between Jack; Jubilee; Destroyer, a big bully of small stature; and LaJo or Dusty. Together they weave a magical, yet utterly real account of what it means to begin to grow up. In an interview, Spinelli says:

When I was a young boy in the '50s there was this man in Norristown called the Hokey Pokey man…He was from Italy and he would push this white cart with two handles and big wooden wheels up and down the streets of Norristown. He had this huge block of ice that he would scrape with a big metal scraper, dump it out into a paper cone and drizzle with one of his container of syrupy flavors. He had it down pat and he knew what time the kids were getting out of what schools, and there he would be.

So, the Hokey Pokey man became absolutely iconic in Norristown. If you go to Norristown now and ask people who have lived there all their lives, their eyes will glaze over. At the time he was just part of the scene, you did not give him much thought. But, forty, fifty years later there is a treasured memory and a signature memory that represented that time and place in a way few other things could. And now that is gone forever, along with the Hokey Pokey man himself.

Hokey Pokey is chock full of details like the Hokey Pokey shaved-ice man. Spinelli captures them all perfectly and organizes them into a vibrant landscape. A place filled with quintessential (idealized) kid-games and activities, even including the Snuggle Spot, a candy-cane striped house where one can get a furry snuggle from the Snuggler. A place infused with delicious, perfectly made-up words like dropflops, hoprocks, and groundcrinkle. The choices Spinelli makes in creating this world allow childhood to be not just a time of life, but an actual place of life too. And although he clearly uses details from his own childhood, Spinelli's Hokey Pokey world never sounds nostalgic or historical.

What is most amazing though, is how Spinelli articulates the jumbled mix of emotions that a child feels. He chronicles the push-and-pull of separating self from others; of wanting to grow up and yet wanting to stay a kid through and through. Spinelli manages to wholly – and sometimes painfully – portray the internal landscape of being a child, all against the mesmerizing, external landscape of Hokey Pokey.

Hokey Pokey is well suited for middle graders (ages 8-12) but will be wholeheartedly enjoyed by young adults and adults as well.

Reviewed by Tamara Ellis Smith

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in January 2013, and has been updated for the May 2014 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  The Hokey Pokey

Join BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Find out more

Today's Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Honor
    by Thrity Umrigar
    First Impressions readers enjoyed being transported to India via Thrity Umrigar's novel Honor, with ...
  • Book Jacket: What Storm, What Thunder
    What Storm, What Thunder
    by Myriam J. A. Chancy
    What Storm, What Thunder illuminates life in Haiti during and after the massive earthquake on ...
  • Book Jacket: Noor
    by Nnedi Okorafor
    Noor's heroine goes by the moniker AO. Though officially this stands for her given name, Anwuli ...
  • Book Jacket: Five Tuesdays in Winter
    Five Tuesdays in Winter
    by Lily King
    Lily King's two recent novels Euphoria and Writers & Lovers could hardly be more different: one has ...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
Her Hidden Genius
by Marie Benedict
Dr. Rosalind Franklin's pivotal but overlooked role in the discovery of DNA gets her due in Benedict's latest novel.

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    by Thrity Umrigar

    Bestselling author Thrity Umrigar tells the moving story of two Indian women and the courage they inspire in each other.

  • Book Jacket

    The Latinist
    by Mark Prins

    A page-turning exploration of power, ambition, and the intertwining of love and obsession.

Who Said...

The dirtiest book of all is the expurgated book

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!


Solve this clue:

A P O B Y Houses

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.