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Spike the Rebel Review by Susan Marlow

By Carl Sommer;
Illustratorillustrated by Enrique Vignolo
Advance Publishing
6950 Fulton Street
Houston, TX 77022

Tolerance. Friendship. Cooperation. These are just a few of the character traits highlighted in Carl Sommer's Sommer-Time stories. His Fun Times with Timeless Virtues series includes at least a dozen different titles, each creatively illustrated and a delight to read aloud to ages 4 and up. Older students (8-10 years) will enjoy reading them on their own. Each picture book is about 44 pages long and is available as an 8x11-inch hardcover or as a smaller 7x9-inch hardcover, for a lower price. Read-aloud CDs are also available.

I wanted to commend the series as a whole before presenting the latest addition, Spike the Rebel. The other books I've reviewed present character-building adventures that can be enjoyed over and over again. Unfortunately, this is not the case with Spike the Rebel. From the first page of the book, when Philip (Spike's real name) declares to a little girl, "I'm Spike the Rebel, the troublemaker!" the reader is taken on a nonstop trip with Spike's smart mouth and defiant attitude. Like an amusement ride that one cannot get off but desperately wishes would end, the book never seemed to balance its "over-the-edge" presentation of a bully and downright mean kid.

"I love to get kids in trouble!" "The only one I care about is myself!" He trips kids, has terrible table manners, interrupts his teacher, lies, steals a gun to shoot birds, . . . need I go on? Spike the rebel shows none of the character traits of tolerance, friendship, and cooperation that are presented in this story--which, of course, is the point. As expected, Spike crashes into one of his own mean "traps" on the bike trail. The kids he bullied show kindness and help him, even though he's sure they will walk away. In an amazing turnaround, Spike vows, "I'll never be mean again." He makes restitution and "all's well that ends well."

The illustrations are cartoon-style, which softens the negative character traits expressed throughout. Realistic pictures would have been much more dramatic and disturbing. Older kids will probably get a good laugh at the exaggeration of Spike's character. However, I felt uncomfortable presenting this blatant behavior to my preschool grandchildren, so I did not share it with them. On the positive side, Advance Publishing does a nice job presenting timeless, biblical principles in the other books I've read. It is not a Christian publishing company, but the series has won a number of awards, including the Mom's Choice Award and the Family Review Center Gold Award.

Product review by Susan Marlow, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, October 2007